Shibata Yukinori (Tokyo, Jesuit Social Center)
Sr. Helen Prejean, the famous American author of the book "Dead Man Walking" that became a film, came for the third time to Japan on an educational tour last May 16. During her second visit to Japan last year's January she spoke at a public gathering in the Catholic Kojimachi Church. This time her visit to Japan played a double purpose. First of all, she came to support the movement to reexamine the case of the Fukuoka incident that had been started by the deceased Furukawa Tairyu of Seimezan Schweitzer Temple with whom she had intimate friendship while he was still alive. At the same time, her coming would help to heap up public Japanese opinion to abolish the death penalty system.
Seimezan Schweitzer Temple and Amnesty International Japan organized this time the national campaign against death penalty with the participation of our Tokyo center. During the term of 12 days, Sr. Helen had a driving busy schedule. She held public talks in 9 Japanese cities (Kumamoto, Fukuoka, Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, Okayama, Kakogawa, Nagoya, Sapporo and Tokyo) and addressed over 2,000 people. Two days before departure, on May 28, she gave a speech to European and Japanese politicians that gathered at a seminar organized by the Coalition of Parliamentarians to Promote the Abolition of Death Penalty", and held a press conference in Tokyo.

Rev. Furukawa, priest of Buddhist Shingon Sect who was a chaplain for prisoners sentenced to death, met once two men with death sentence at Fukuoka's Penitentiary, and since he was convinced that they were innocent, started the process of demanding a review of their trial in 1961. The so-called "Fukuoka Incident" happened like this: In 1947, two black-market brokers were assassinated in Fukuoka City. Two suspects, accused of being the main criminals were given a death sentence in spite of claiming to be innocent. Years later, in an amnesty order in 1975, the sentence of one of them was reduced to life sentence, but the other one was executed. The one who received a life sentence is still living healthy in an Old Folks Home. Rev. Furukawa had continued requesting the review of the whole trial, including the case of the one that had been executed.
In 1969, when Rev. Furukawa was fully involved in this movement he received some hair of the deceased Dr. Schweitzer sent to him by the President of Kobe's Schweitzer Association. This became the occasion to open Seimezan Schweitzer Temple in 1973. Since that time, Dr. Furukawa gave most of his energies to peace and human rights issues as well as to positive exchanges with other religious groups.
In 1998, he met Sr. Helen at the World Peace Religions Assembly held in Rumania, where they agreed on the deep connection between the respect for life and the abolition of capital punishment. They pledged themselves to meet each other in Japan again, but Rev. Furukawa died two years ago. Last year Sr. Helen attended the anniversary ceremony for the deceased Rev. Furukawa and proposed the campaign that took place this year. The family of Rev. Furukawa that had been deeply affected by his death took advantage of the campaign to renew their plead to request a review of the Fukuoka trial.

There are important moves these days with regard to the Japanese system for capital punishment. One of them is the combined seminar of Japanese and European parliamentarians to speed up the abolition of capital punishment where Sr. Helen spoke. In other words, a requirement to participate in the European Council is the abolition of capital punishment, and neither Japan nor the USA, observer members, have abolished the death sentence. Thus, the above mentioned seminar tried to put pressure on both countries.
On the other hand, as it was reported by a Korean priest from the Catholic Korean Justice and Peace Commission who was a guest at Tokyo's public gathering, more than half of the parliamentarians in Korea are in favor of abolishing death sentence. The Catholic Church there plays a leading role together with citizens' groups against capital punishment and there is a bill on the Diet's agenda to abolish death sentence. Again, Taiwan has designed an official plan to put an end to capital punishment by the year 2004.
Under such circumstances, as Doi Takako reported at the Tokyo gathering, the Association of Japanese parliamentarians are getting closer together to put a bill next autumn for the abolition of capital punishment, as legislation by House members. The gate to abolish death sentence has been kept sealed for a long time, but finally is about to open.
However, Japanese public opinion is not in favor of abolishing death sentence. It was pointed out last year and repeated again at the last campaign by Sr. Helen and other guest speakers that this movement should continue. Instead of instigating revenge and hate to no purpose, there is a need to promote reconciliation and true healing among the victims and their survivors with the prisoners sentenced to death and their families. The campaign gave us a vigorous incentive.
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