More than 1,800 people staged a rally Sunday in Tokyo to call for abolition of the death penalty.
In a keynote speech, Yo Hemmi, an award-winning writer, said: “Are we able to condone hanging someone? Are we able to pass on such a scene to our children?
“I will continue seeking abolition (of capital punishment), as I cannot condone (something that) it makes our hearts destructive,” said Hemmi, a former Kyodo News reporter. “I hope Dec. 19, 2010, will become the starting point for the suspension of executions, forever.”
The rally marked the 20th anniversary of the foundation of Forum 90, a key group against the death penalty that has actively campaigned for abolition and visited the constituencies of newly appointed justice ministers, who are authorized to order executions, to press them not to issue such orders and has issued protests when inmates are hanged.
Since the lay judge trial system debuted last year, death sentences have been handed down in three murder cases, including one imposed on a minor accused of killing two women in Miyagi Prefecture.
Osamu Kobayashi, a lawyer who heads a Japan Federation of Bar Associations panel seeking to halt executions, told the rally, “Ordinary people have to face up to the death penalty now whether they like it or not, but the details of punishments, including capital punishment, have not been fully disclosed.
“I will work to build a consensus in the JFBA so we can achieve a society that does not need the death penalty,” he said.
Speakers at the rally included Toshikazu Sugaya, who was acquitted in a retrial earlier this year in a high-profile 1990 child murder in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, after he spent more than 17 years in prison.
“There must be more people who (were wrongly) accused, as I was,” he said. “When I think about such people, I have to say capital punishment must be abolished.”
Chinatsu Nakayama, a writer who won a House of Councilors seat in 1980 and campaigned against capital punishment, serving one term, said: “Execution as well as war is murder under the name of justice, and I believe murder cannot be justified as an act of righteousness. I have worked for the abolition of the death penalty for 30 years, but it still exists.”
After the first death sentence under the lay judge system was handed down last month at the Yokohama District Court, Tokyo-based lawyer Yoshihiro Yasuda said at another occasion, “I’m deeply concerned that (meting out) the death penalty will be considered a lofty mission if it is handed down successively by lay judges,” he was quoted as saying by Forum 90.