Masaharu Harada speaks at a news conference June 4 in Tokyo at the launch of the nongovernmental organization Ocean
Masaharu Harada speaks at a news conference June 4 in Tokyo at the launch of the nongovernmental organization Ocean, while Renny Cushing –
, founder of the U.S.-based group Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, looks on.

Hasegawa for his part tried to reach out to Harada after his trial began in 1984, continuously writing letters to apologize for his crime. Over nearly 10 years, Harada received about 150 letters from Hasegawa but threw most of them out because he did not want to read any apology from the man who killed his brother.

Yet as time passed, Harada started reading the letters and eventually began to respond to them. And in 1993, just one month before Hasegawa’s death sentence was finalized, Harada decided to meet him face to face.

“Our life itself was completely destroyed because of Hasegawa and I was consumed with hatred,” Harada told The Japan Times. “Honestly speaking, there is no way I could ever forgive him, even now. . . . But I wanted to know more about the crime and also felt that I had an account to settle with Hasegawa.”

Harada met him four times, trying to come to terms with the murder and find out why he committed the crime. But then Hasegawa was abruptly hanged in 2001.

“The government deprived me of my opportunity to interact” with Hasegawa, Harada said. “Through the meetings, I was just beginning to understand who he was.”

Based on his experience, Harada recently established Ocean, a support group not only for people victimized by crime but also for offenders and their kin.

Harada said Ocean is “a symbol of new life and hope.”

“I want Ocean to become a sort of oasis” for crime victims as well as offenders, Harada said. “And I believe it is necessary to create a place for crime victims and offenders to face each other and hold dialogue.”

Ocean was created earlier this month with about 20 members, including crime victims and their relatives, as well as lawyers, journalists and academics.

It was launched as an affiliate of the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, whose members include not only crime victims and family members but also relatives of executed inmates. The group advocates an end to capital punishment.

During a visit to Tokyo marking Ocean’s establishment, Renny Cushing, founder and executive director of MVFHR, expressed concern over a controversial bill in the Diet that would enable people victimized by crime and their relatives to participate directly in criminal court proceedings.

The bill would enable victims to sit next to prosecutors in court, question defendants and witnesses, and voice opinions on the penalty to be meted out.

The Liberal Democratic Party and its ruling coalition partner, New Komeito, as well as the Democratic Party of Japan approved the bill in the Lower House amid grave concern among legal experts that the courtroom could become a place for revenge. The bill has been sent to the Upper House and is almost certain to be passed during the current Diet session.

The legislation is part of a response to growing complaints from crime victims in recent years that they are often left out of the loop in the criminal trial process and their rights and interests are ignored.

But Cushing, who founded MVFHR after his own father was murdered 19 years ago, said allowing crime victims to speak out in trials will not help.

“I can’t think of a worse place to have a dialogue between the victim and the offender than in the middle of a courtroom,” Cushing said. “My experience is that the courtrooms and court proceedings tend to retraumatize victims. They are not places where victims can feel safe, they are not places where anyone can feel safe.”

Cushing stressed that through his experience, he found out that the feelings of crime victims’ family members evolve over time, and their position on the death penalty changes, as happened with Harada.

“We can punish people without becoming killers ourselves,” Cushing said. “The death penalty does not bring back anyone, but what it does is create another grieving family.”

Harada said it took him a long time but he began to reconsider his views on the death penalty nearly 10 years after his brother’s murder. Because Hasegawa’s execution foreclosed on any further dialogue, Harada said he has dreamed of creating a venue for interaction between victims and offenders.

Harada said every victim feels differently toward the offender. “In my case, I am glad I met (Hasegawa). Through him, I came to think about the death penalty system and (the importance of) holding dialogue between victims and offenders.”

For related stories:
Even victimized divided on death penalty
Victims’ families seek life, not death, for murderer

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