In the last issue I introduced a new Japanese network of religions to "Stop Capital Punishment." The Network organized a 2nd seminar on Death Penalty on November 29, at Sophia University. About 60 participants, from religious and citizen's organizations, listened with interest to the speakers.
After introductory greetings from Hoan Rivera, Director of Sophia's Institute for the Study of Social Justice, the host of the seminar, Alberto Quatrucci, Secretary of the Italian NGO, the Community of Saint Egidio, explained in detail how the network of religions, an initiative taken by that Community, began and how hopefully will it develop.
There were three speakers. The first one was Mr. Ishii Kenjiro (86 years old), a former prisoner with a death penalty for burglary and murder in an incident that occurred in 1947, at Fukuoka City. Mr. Ishii claimed from the beginning of the trial that he acted in self-defense at that time, but his claim was rejected and he was given a death sentence, back in 1956. Later on, his sentence was commuted to life sentence, because of an amnesty in 1975. In 1989, he obtained temporary release from imprisonment Again, Mr. Nishi Takeo, "accomplice in the crime," who had also claimed innocent, as Mr. Ishii, was executed the same day that Mr. Ishii had his sentence reduced. Mr. Ishii, that has spent half of his 85 years in jail, spoke fluently in his Kumamoto dialect about his severe jail experiences and the legally unjust execution of innocent Mr. Nishi.
The next speaker was Ms. Yamaguchi Yumiko, a victim of a bus hijacking in Saga 3 years ago. She told us how the young hijacker cut her face and killed Ms. Tsukamoto, her respected teacher, stabbing her in the throat. In spite of that, she said she could not feel bitter against the young hijacker, because her own daughter had once refused to attend school and she could understand the painful and hard experiences children have to go through now. Once a crime occurs, victims and murderers come to board on the same boat. She spoke calmly and strongly.
The last speaker, Rev. Yamamoto Toshimasa, Secretary General of National Christian Conference of Japan, introduced the activities of Japanese Protestant Churches regarding death penalty and reported on the situation of other Asian churches.
The second part of the seminar dealt with appeals from representatives of the religions joining the Network. A video was shown and a period of questions and answers followed. Finally, Mr. Quattrucci of the Community of Saint Egidio and Mr. Furukawa Ryuji of Semeizan Schweitzer Temple made the closing remarks. Mr. Quattrucci, in his special vigorous way, mentioned that he was going to Kansai for a consultation with religious leaders and that, early next year, he will guide to Japan a group of Italian parliamentarians that oppose death penalty, with plans of meeting with citizen groups and politicians working against death penalty here. Then, he hopes to see the Prime Minister Koizumi for the same purpose. In the Year2005, American Sister Helen Prejean will come again to Japan for a new campaign against death sentence. There are also plans to hold a new seminar "Together for Life," in Tokyo, at the end of May 2004.
The Japanese movement against death penalty, compared to that in the West, is still sluggish, but grows slowly gaining important adepts among religions, as it appeared clearly at the last symposium. I want to continue working at it.
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