Thursday, March 02, 2006

The death penalty in Japan

Many people on America's death rows grow increasingly insane as the years pass by. The isolation, the lack of human touch, the constant screaming and tiny cells are contribute to an environment that literally drives people mad.

It is difficult to imagine, but conditions actually are worse in Japan. Here's the first part of a story that was published in today's Los Angeles Times:
Awaiting Death's Footsteps
On Japan's death row, prisoners never know when the hangman will come. Harsh conditions aim to calm, but critics call them inhuman.
By Bruce Wallace
Times Staff Writer
March 2, 2006

NAGOYA, Japan — Like all prisoners on Japan's death row, Masao Akahori knew that his execution would come without warning. The fear made him stiffen at the sound of the guards' approaching footsteps, wondering if the clack of boots was a countdown to death or would pass by, fading into the silence of another reprieve.

One morning in the early 1970s, the march stopped outside Akahori's cell and a key turned the lock."We have come to fetch you," the guards told him.

Akahori remembers his legs collapsing under him, that five guards had to drag him from his cell. He remembers the nervous whispering when the guards suddenly realized they had come to hang the wrong man.

It was Yamamoto they wanted. In the next cell."They put me back, no apology, and went for Yamamoto," Akahori recalls. He is 75 now, with watery eyes, a ghost of the 24-year-old who was living under bridges in 1954 when he says police beat a false confession out of him that he had raped and murdered a schoolgirl. "They closed the small window in my cell so I couldn't see what was going on with Yamamoto. "But I could hear them," he says, in a voice that still trembles with the telling.

Akahori says he was so traumatized by his near-death experience that, for several years, he could not speak. But he did eventually win a retrial, and in 1989, after 31 years on death row, he was declared not guilty and released. Yet his story remains precious. Not simply because he survived to tell it, but because it offers a rare peek into the mists of Japan's death row, where prisoners live in conditions designed to induce submission and where executions, all by hanging, are carried out in secret.
This qualifies as a "must read." Go here for the whole thing.

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