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Here be dragons: off the map and into the deranged world of Japans capital punishment system

To kick off here are a couple of quotes:

“While my body was asleep, I think my soul rode on a triangular-shaped UFO and went to Venus. It was a very beautiful place and it was really green.”

“The wisdom never dies. On that kind of wisdom, this is wisdom. It never dies. There are lots of ladies in the world, lots of animals. Everyone is living and feeling something. Elephants, dragons. No way will I die … I won’t die.There’s no one who will die. Somewhere around God you can live.” 

What do you think? I’d go so far as to say that neither, on the face of it, look entirely rational. But a bit of context. The first is from Miyuki Hatoyama, wife of the new Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama. She also claims to “eat” the sun’s energy every morning and apparently takes her Madonna-like energy fetish into some pretty extreme realms. OK, that’s one thing. Bear in mind she’s Japan’s “first lady”, and probably able to avail herself of very high quality medical care and expert advice should they ever be needed (after all, her husband is the PM).

By contrast the second quote is from the rather less well-connected Hakamada Iwao, a 73-year-old man on Japan’s ultra-secretive, ultra-oppressive death row. I’ve blogged about Hakamada Iwao’s case before so won’t go into enormous detail now. But suffice it to say that Mr Hakamada appears to be an incredibly disturbed man who nevertheless faces execution because Japan seems to see nothing wrong in executing prisoners who may not even know where they are or what is going on.

His “dragons” quote came in direct response to the question: do you know what an execution is? (No, he apparently does not, and his connection to this world seems tenuous at best). OK, I will say some more about Hakamada (!) … because his case is so extreme that, to use the old cliché, it really beggars belief. He’s been on death row for a mind-numbing 41 years. FORTY-ONE YEARS!  (At Amnesty we think there’s no-one else anywhere in the world who has been in prison under a death sentence for such a terrifying period). In other words, Hakamada has lived this way since before men went to the moon. When he was found guilty in a trial that not only Amnesty believes was unfair but also one of the actual judges (!), Harold Wilson was the British prime minister and the Yoko-era Beatles were still going strong.

It’s not just duration, it’s also sheer, agonising intensity. For their “peace of mind” Japanese death row prisoners are not told the date of their execution and only find out on the actual morning that the hanging is to take place. Imagine the stress of each day possibly being the one on which they will take you out and kill you.

In Hakamada’s case, having been locked away on Japan’s totalitarian death row (no talking, no looking guards in the eye etc) for four decades, he’s only recently had an expert mental health assessment. Unbelievable. One psychiatrist has described him as suffering from “institutional psychosis”, another says he’s in a ”state of insanity”. His sister reckons he’s been mentally ill – and untreated – since 1980.  No matter, he still faces execution, in clear contravention of international law.

Please take action for Hakamada here and read more from the new Amnesty report Hanging By A Thread: Mental Health And The Death Penalty in Japan about how numerous prisoners with mental illness also face hanging in this rich and (otherwise) highly sophisticated country.

Perhaps when Miyuki Hatoyama’s has her next morning solar energy boost she might like to have word with her husband about ending Japan’s grotesque death penalty system. I don’t know about you, but I find this level of calculated cruelty totally alien to any sense of justice or even basic humanity.         

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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