Japan’s Secret Executions

By Nolan Moore on Saturday, December 21, 2013
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“I have reached the conviction that the abolition of the death penalty is desirable.” —Albert Einstein

In A Nutshell

Japan is one of the few nations in the world that still practices capital punishment. However, unlike American prisoners, Japanese convicts aren’t told when they’re going to die. Death row inmates are kept in isolation and total silence until a day when guards suddenly arrive and lead them to the gallows.

The Whole Bushel

Mention the words “capital punishment,” and you’re bound to get a strong reaction just about anywhere. It’s one of the most divisive issues in the world today, and while the majority of countries consider it immoral (over two-thirds have banned the practice), there are still several powerful nations that impose the death sentence. It’s well known the United States and China regularly execute offenders, but the island nation of Japan is also one of the few remaining countries that administers the death penalty. And it’s safe to say their treatment of death row inmates is so shocking that it makes Texas look tame in comparison.

At the very least, American prisoners are given a heads-up long before they walk the Green Mile. Japanese inmates are never told when they’ll be led to the gallows (and they are literal gallows, as Japan still carries out execution by hanging), so they spend every day of their imprisonment wondering when guards will show up to escort them to the death chamber. Obviously, this causes the prisoners a bit of anxiety, especially as some of them spend decades fretting over when they’re going to die, and Amnesty International worries that the stress of these secret killings are responsible for mental illness among death row inmates. It’s also torture for their families as relatives (and their lawyers) are only told about the executions after they’ve already happened.

In addition to the long waits and sudden hangings, prisoners are forbidden from speaking and are held in near isolation. They’re only allowed to exercise two or three times a week, but the rest of the time they’re forbidden from walking around their cells. They must stay seated at all times. They’re never allowed to talk to the press so they can’t share their side of the story or appeal for support, and no one is ever allowed to witness the executions. Despite pleas from around the world, Japan won’t be changing its policies anytime soon. Over 80 percent of the Japanese population supports the death penalty (compare that to the 60 percent of Americans who support it), and the number of secret executions has actually increased in the past year under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. While we can debate the pros and cons of the death penalty itself, there can be little doubt that Japan’s secret executions fit the definition of “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Show Me The Proof

Japan Keeps Executing Prisoners Without Giving Them Any Warning
A Secret Theater: Inside Japan’s Capital Punishment System
BBC: Japan death row ‘breeds insanity’
Gallup poll: Death penalty