Shibata Yukinori (Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)

Since several years back the Tokyo Jesuit Social center joined the movement to stop capital punishment. Last summer a new network of several religions to stop death penalty was launched in Japan and our center became one of the support groups. The following article tries to explain the process, aims and future plans of that movement.
On May 23, 2003 a Seminar for the abolition of death penalty was held in Tokyo under the sponsorship of a Catholic NGO, the "Community of Saint Egidio". (Please, refer to Social Bulletin n. 114) The event provided a golden opportunity to Japanese religious leaders to organize a network for the abolition of capital punishment. The network started to function last September.
At this moment, besides our social center, the following organizations operate the network: the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, the Melchizedek group of St. Ignatius Church, Japan's Christian Commission, Seimeizan Schweitzer Temple, Shinshu Otaniha, Omoto, and the Christian Link for the Abolition of Death Penalty. The liaison office has been established at the Japanese office of Amnesty International. The future program includes a yearly symposium and other gatherings and there are plans for common action and frequent exchanges of information.

Religious Attitudes Towards Death Punishment
The aim of the new network is, "No, to capital punishment, awaken public opinion on death executions and promote as much as possible public discussions about life". Individuals and groups that support the network basically oppose executions and wish the abolition of capital punishment. As we have often affirm in this bulletin there are many reasons to oppose the death penalty. No reason can justify the killing of a person, because such an act violates the dignity of human life. The life of the criminal cannot expiate the usurpation of the life and the rights of the victims and executions totally deprive criminals of any possibility to repent.
Considering the feelings and situation of the victims and their surviving families, and reflecting on the changing public opinion, due to the worsening of public peace and order, our basic attitude in the network is, first to stop all executions and start to rouse again public opinion concerning death penalty.
With regard to the feelings of the victims, we think that executions that are based on the theory of revenge, "eye for eye, death for death", could, on the opposite, neglect the tasks of carefully healing the inner wounds of the victims and their surviving families and of society in general. We also think that to increase executions at random in order to deter criminals might induce social psychology into brutal violent actions. Are, really, executions the only way to solve the issue of crime? I think we have now the last chances to reflect slowly on this.

Looking at the future

It is a pity that the dispersion of the National Diet and the following general elections have projected an unclear image of what is going to happen, but the Group of Supra-partisan Parliamentarians is making efforts to present a bill demanding the abolition of death penalty. With that in mind, our network decided to conduct a signature campaign demanding the abolition of executions. We also plan to organize a public Symposium in Sophia University on November 29, inviting a person that, due to false charges, had been given a death sentence and a victim of a crime. Besides this, from the end of November to the first week of December, various citizen groups are planning several popular events for the abolition of executions.
Furthermore, there are plans next year to organize again a campaign for the abolition of capital punishment with American Sister Helen Prejean who had already been in Japan last year for the same purpose. But, of course, we continue trying to call on Japanese religious organizations to work actively for the abolition of all executions, in combination with other foreign religious organizations, like the Community of St. Egidio and different citizen's groups.
After the Symposium of November 29th is finished we will publish a report and a Newsletter. We are also organizing an e-mail information network. The Web of our center will provide information, from time to time, on new developments.
Groups and individuals can participate in the network. For further details, please, contact us.
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