Shibata Yukinori (Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)
February 1, 2008. Three prisoners condemned to death were executed in Japan. The flow of executions started by Nagase Jin'en, former Minister of Justice, that claimed the lives of 10 criminals on death row in three different occasions, during the space of only 10 months. His successor, the actual Minister of Justice, Hatoyama Kunio, strongly following the same trend publicly remarked: "Why should be there a need for the Minister of Justice to sign an execution?" Recently, just in 2 months, 6 persons were executed, an unusual number certainly. It is said the Justice Ministry has taken the policy of conducting executions every 2 or 3 months. The background for this is that the numbers of given death sentences have greatly increased to more than 15 cases a year, with the result of over 100 settled prisoners on death sentence.

The Jesuit Social Center made a public criticism of the executions on February 1, 2008.

We protest the executions that took place today.

Just only 2 months after 3 prisoners on death row were executed (December 7, 2007) we cannot help feeling sad at the new executions that took place today. Using the expression of the Minister of Justice we experience deep sorrow at the 'belt conveyer' way of taking people's lives.

As we assert every time the Catholic Church clearly opposes death penalty and gives the following reasons: 'Human life comes from God and nobody can take it away' 'God wants to accept the sinner anytime the sinner repents' 'Crime deterrence and the maintenance of social order can be kept by using effective means besides death punishment' 'The support of the victims can be secured not by satisfying the sentiments of revenge, but by strengthening the links with the victims' Even at the time of the execution of former Iraq's President Hussein (December 2006), the Vatican declared publicly that the execution was considered immoral. The reason is because the Catholic Church believes that reconciliation and love can defend human society, not fear and revenge.

We, religious people, believe that our role is to accept sincerely both, the criminals and the victims of crimes, to walk along together with them. We are confident that this role means to cooperate in the conversion and rehabilitation of criminals, not to eliminate them from this world, and as for the victims to make all possible efforts to provide them with healing and recovery.
We strongly desire that, as soon as possible, executions come to a halt and an overall public forum is established, so that the general public can seriously discuss mutually the rights and wrongs of death penalty."

The Religious Community Network "Stop the Death Penalty," of which our Jesuit Center is a member, made a public protest at the time of the executions that took place last August 2007 and organized a prayer ecumenical meeting in Tokyo on September 7, 2007. At the religious event, Buddhist priests chanted the sutras in a similar way as the Gregorian chanting.

Again in October 2007, the religious Community Network organized the 10th seminar on the banning of death sentence. Present at the seminar was Bud Welch, delegate member of the American "Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights" who lost family members at the bomb blast of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, in 1995 where 168 people were killed. He asserted that, hate and revenge are the causes creating assassins and that the hate of criminals hurts deeply the victims. He emphasized: "Let's bring to a halt the chain of violence called death sentences."

The Network made a public protest to the executions in December and together with three more organizations we held a special public protest on December 16, last year. And again, we made public our criticism to the executions of February 1 and organized another public protest last February 9. This way, before the public becomes too familiar with the continuation of flowing executions, there is a need to ban, as soon as possible, all executions so that their recall is not irrevocable.

As much as poverty and the economic gap spread widely in Japan, strict official control of foreign residents and the severe treatment of criminals are normally used. Even mass media does not hesitate to use irresponsible utterances like, "bad fellows do not have any rights." How should religious people react to this now? From now on, the real value of the Community Religious Network is at a stake.

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