Thursday, 3 July 2008

Japan: Dead man recording

In a country known for the official silence surrounding its use of the death penalty, people in Japan have been confronted with an image of their execution chamber -- by a recording made 50 years ago.

The execution of the unknown prisoner, recorded at Osaka detention centre in 1955, has given people a rare and gruesome insight into their country's death penalty, which -- apart from the type of rope used -- has changed little since.

The recording, originally made to train prison workers, was aired in early May as part of a documentary broadcast by Nippon Cultural Broadcasting. (Listen to it on the website of The Guardian newspaper.)

Film-maker Tatsuya Mori stressed the importance of presenting the reality of the death penalty, particularly since the government was trying to conceal it.

"If the justice ministry masks the reality, then it is up to the media to expose it," he told the Asahi Shimbun newspaperpaper.

"There is great significance in letting the public know the truth."

According to the Asahi Shimbun, the station denied it was taking a stand on the death penalty by airing the recording.

"We aren't trying to make a statement for or against the death penalty," a spokesman said.

"Our only intention is to present the reality of executions and let our listeners decide for themselves."

The recording shows the prisoner joking with prison staff, before the trapdoor opens and the rope snaps tight. Buddhist priests are audible chanting in the background while the hanging takes place.

His death is confirmed after 14 minutes.

More hangings, in secret
Japan has executed 10 prisoners so far this year, as the current justice minister Kunio Hatoyama accelerates the pace of hangings.

In the country's notoriously secretive death penalty system, a prisoner can spend decades waiting to be hanged, often receiving as little as a few hours' notice they are about to die.

The government has only recently begun confirming the names of the people it has executed.

Human rights campaigners have frequently condemned the lack of official information about the use of the death penalty, saying it has suppressed and distorted public debate about its use.

Related stories:
Executions in Japan despite appeal plans -- 18 June, 2008
Executions in Japan -- 2006 - 2008 -- 12 April, 2008
Japan: Minister steps up rate of hangings -- 12 April, 2008
Japan: Sixteen hanged in thirteen months -- 04 February, 2008
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August, 2006

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