Shibata Yukinori (Jesuit Social Center Tokyo)

On May 23, 2003 a Seminar for the abolition of death penalty -- "Together for Life" - was held at Tokyo's Shufukaikan. The sponsor was the "Community of Saint Egidio", established in 1968, as a Catholic NGO without any political affiliation that has been actively involved in representing publicly the voices of those weak persons socially rejected. The group has shown interest in the conditions of prisoners in jails, especially in those with a death sentence.
In cooperation with other groups, the "Community of Saint Egidio" has recently called for moratoria on executions at international levels and organized a signature movement that gathered over 4 million signatures worldwide. It also convoked a movement called, "Cities for Life", on November 30, 2002, in order to obtain public manifestos against executions. About 60 cities, from all over the world, including Rome, New York, Paris and Barcelona signed those manifestos. They have also sent an invitation to participate in similar events, in November 30 of this year, to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
They came to Japan this time to contact groups and private persons, as well as local municipalities with the plan to establish a network of cooperation and partnership. As a first step, they organized this public seminar together with citizen groups and religious that had shown interest in the abolition of death penalty in Japan. An audience of about 60 persons listened carefully to the speakers.

* Yagishita Misaki (Amnesty International Japan)
* Furukawa Ryuji (Semeizan Schweitzer Temple)
* Alberto Quattrucci (Community of Saint Egidio)
* Kikuta Koichi (Meiji University professor, Forum for the Abolition of Death Penalty 90)
* Suehiro Akira (Center for Prisoners' Rights)
* Hirose Yasumi (Omoto Foundation and Jinrui Aizen Kai / absent for disease)
* Juan Masia (Jesuit, Sophia University)
* Amemori Keii (Shinshu Otaniha, East Honganji)
* Hosaka Nobuto (Parliamentarian, Secretary General of the Diet Members' League for the Abolition of the Death Penalty)
All the above participants explained their position and activities with regard to the abolition of death penalty.
The following sent messages to the Seminar
* Jose Llompart (Jesuit, Sophia University)
* Nishioka Ryoko (Representative of Tendai Buddhist Denomination)
* Sato Megumu (Former Minister for Justice)

The second part of the seminar consisted of interventions and free contributions from the floor. The focus of the actual movement to abolish death penalty in Japan is the new bill to abolish executions to be presented during the present Diet term by the League of parliamentarians for the abolition of the death penalty, a supra-partisan group. The day after the Seminar, a symposium was planned to explain the bill, and Mr. Hosaka, the Secretary General of the supra-partisan political group explained during the Seminar that, finally, after half a century, the new bill was going to be sent to the National Diet to pave the way for the abolition of death penalty.

Nevertheless, this is only to "stop the executions". In order to realize a true abolition of death penalty, the opinions manifested were that, there is a need to work for a change in the public opinion and a culture that overwhelmingly support death penalty. And an opinion commonly felt was that, in order to change the culture, people expected the religious persons to act. There was no doubt that this was the result of a majority of persons representing religions at the Seminar. But on the other hand, in order to create or better, to revive a dormant network of religions, there is a need of a liaison group that is not in existence now. The reality is that each group, this center included, and religions are all busy with their daily activities.
Nevertheless, for the time being all participants accepted the two following plans:
1. Start a network with all participant members of the Seminar, under Amnesty Japan
2. Organize a similar Seminar next year
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The Seminar gave a great impulse to the movement to abolish death penalty in Japan, at a time when the movement was stagnant, because of the enforcement of executions by the Ministry of Justice. The enthusiasm and creativity of the activities taken by the Community of Saint Egidio touched our hearts and moved us again to provoke new efforts, in order to advance the abolition of capital punishment in Japan.
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