For a long time, one criticism of Japan has been the paucity of broad and deep public discussion of its use of capital punishment, a lack of transparency in the process and the treatment of detained convicts in general. Successive governments have trotted out statistics declaring overwhelming public support for execution. But we know that statistics are easily skewed depending on the wording of questions and the information provided to interviewees.

Too often it seems to have fallen to foreign contributors to Readers in Council to give these matters anything approaching critical public attention. I don’t mean to assess the merits or demerits of the various pro and con arguments. I just seek an unfettered discussion of the matter as an important social issue largely ignored by Japanese and concealed by the government.

In the Feb. 18 front-page article “Provide details on hangings or halt them,” some former lay judges who participated in death-penalty cases lament “feeling guilty that they will sooner or later become ‘indirect murderers’ of fellow human beings.”

I was disappointed to read that because it doesn’t speak well of people’s understanding of the judicial sentencing issue. Of course, judges are partly responsible for killing fellow human beings! Don’t they know it? Capital punishment is judicial state murder. Do they think the law exempts individual citizens from culpability?

None of us is innocent. We like to think we are, but by supporting the polity through taxes and participation in society, each of us is an accomplice in the actions of the polity. I pay taxes in Japan; the Japanese government judicially murders heinous criminals. Thus I know that I am an accomplice in judicial murder by the state.

It always angers me when the paper quotes judges who hand down death sentences with the excruciatingly lame excuse that the sentence “can’t be helped.” That is a common Japanese excuse for all manner of evil. It is very disappointing that this elementary lesson, which people ought to learn in high school, is still not understood by adults who serve as lay judges.

grant piper

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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