In Japan, handcuffs behind the back are reserved for people sentenced to death on the day of their execution. Sometimes they fight back violently and dislocate a shoulder. Will the execution be postponed then? “No, it’s applied,” explains a certain “M” in The Secrets of the Death Penalty Revealed by a Guardian (Takeshobo, 2021), manga by Ichinose Hachi, produced based on anonymous testimonies of former employees, such as ” M” of the Japanese prison system. A chilling story that the tabloid Gendai published online on Wednesday July 26 as an invitation to reflect on the death penalty, a rare approach in a state that is the only developed country, alongside the United States, to use this sanction.
The day before, Tomohiro Kato had been hanged in Tokyo’s Kosuge detention center. He was sentenced to death for driving a truck into a crowd and stabbing several people in Tokyo’s Akihabara district in 2008. The attack left seven dead and dozens injured. In 2015, the Supreme Court finally upheld the verdict, noting that the seriousness of the crime left no room for leniency. Mr. Kato’s hanging was the fourth in just over six months. As of December 2021, three prisoners had been executed.
These executions are carried out with relative indifference, which keeps the system somewhat opaque. Locked up in one of the country’s seven special prisons, the convicts languish in solitary cells measuring 6 square meters under the eye of a permanently activated camera. During the day they have to remain seated. The light stays on at night to prevent suicides. Isolation sometimes affects their sanity. There would be abuse.
Only their family members or lawyers can visit them. The law provides for an execution within six months of the verdict, but it is rarely carried out. In 2021, the Japan Center for Information on Innocence and the Death Penalty recalls, two of the 118 prisoners sentenced to death had been imprisoned for more than forty years.
The date of the execution set by the Minister of Justice is unknown. The convicts only find out a few hours in advance. “Every time the guards came to pick up a convict, I trembled. I broke down when I found out it wasn’t my turn. I still cry when I remember those moments,” said Sakae Menda (1925-2020), the first Japanese man to be released from death row after 34 years.
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