REPORT / Aiming at Stressing Dialogue With the Victims
3rd Seminar of the Religious Community Network "Call For Moratorium Now"
Shibata Yukinori (Jesuit Social Center Staff)

I have already introduced here, before, the Religious community Network "Call for Moratorium Now" that held its 3rd Seminar, last May 28. The other two seminars took place a year ahead, in May and November respectively. Here is a short Report of the last one.

About 70 persons attended the gathering that was held at Iidabashi's Korean Christian Church in Japan. The discussions evolved from the relief religions could offer to the victims to other kinds of cooperation to assist the victims and to stop capital punishment.
Mr. Kikuta Koichi of Meiji University delivered the keynote speech. Mr. Kikuta, a specialist in criminal law, and at the same time active in assisting victims of murder, stressed that, in spite of heavy punishment, crimes have not decreased. He indicated that police-led assistance to the victims is dangerously affecting the neutrality of the law, and so "the movement to Stop Capital Punishment is, by no means, in contradiction with Assistance to the Victims of Crime. The suffering of the victims and their relatives and the determination to impose heavy penalties on the criminals can remain together to build new social systems."
A Panel Discussion followed with 3 religious representatives exposing their experiences. Mr. Takagi Hideki (Omoto) explained his experiences as chaplain, " Since I believe that prisoners can repent, I want to appeal to their inner human realities. Thinking of that, I wish I could transmit them the feelings of the victims of crime."
Mr. Ikezumi Kei (Episcopal Church of Japan) who has assisted several prisoners executed and has, at the same time, met with relatives of the victims who opposed the executions of criminals insisted that the only way to reduce crime is to spread the value of giving importance to life, and not to eliminate the criminals. Mr. Ikezumi said there is a need of wide social involvement, like permitting visits to the criminals, financial assistance to the families of the victims as well as giving them possibilities of counseling.
Mr. Tamamitsu Junsho (Shinshu Otani-ha), a Buddhist that has been working for years against death penalty spoke introducing the teachings of Shinran, "People are up to no good, you know. But, this is nothing terrible it is something plentiful. Nobody should be eliminated. Criminals and victims, as well as concerned families, one by one, should be kindly bound together." Mr. Tamamitsu spoke out of his personal Buddhist experience.
Ms. Takada Akiko (Forum 90), coordinator in the discussion, spoke at the end. She expressed her expectations with regard to religious people: "Religious have the power to bring together victims and criminals. We desire them to take the lead in building a society that pulls criminals and victims together."
Last May, Mr. Reny Cushing, a representative of surviving families of criminal victims, who is a campaigner against death penalty and cameraman Toshi Kazama who has been for years taking photographs of young prisoners sentenced to death, came to Japan and conducted a national campaign to stop capital punishment. From 21-29 May they spoke to groups in Osaka, Kumamoto, Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Okayama, Nagoya, Shizuoka and Tokyo. Lawyers' Associations organized their public lectures in Tokyo and Osaka and Amnesty International, together with the Network of Religious Groups, took care of the other public events with different groups in other parts of the country. Many attended the gatherings and it is worth mentioning that for quite a few of them the topic of death penalty was new to them.
The father of Mr. Reny Cushing was assassinated at home in 1988, but Mr. R. Cushing continues to oppose death penalty, under the grounds that, "to advocate the execution of criminals not only totally deprives, by committing a crime, the values considered important by one's relatives, but also the moral values one holds." Mr. Cushing who represents the group "Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation" that demands assistance to the victims as well as the abolition of death penalty, appealed for the need of "parallel justice," in other words, a special attention to both, criminals and victims.
Mr. Toshi Kazama migrated to the US, at the age of 15, and has been living there for 30 consecutive years. During that period of time he could not stop pondering over different contradictions of American society, like violence and poverty, racial discrimination, drugs, etc., and realizing that death penalty was like a symbol of all, started to cover and take photographs of young people with a death sentence, about 8 years ago. He recorded in black and white young prisoners sentenced to death and their families, the prison facilities and the scaffolds. Nobody else, but the prison officers perform executions. The words of Mr. Kazama, "we, by saying YES to death penalty, are the executioners," stabbed all people present there.
The Religious Community Network "Call for Moratorium Now" presented the signatures of 1370 people to the Minister of Home Affairs, on May 29. There are rumors that, within a short period, new executions could take place. People expect the Network of Religious to take the lead in promoting a concrete strong movement to stop capital punishment.
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