Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
For a long time one criticism of Japan has been the paucity of broad and deep public discussion of the use of capital punishment here, a lack of transparency in the process, and the treatment of convicts in detention in general. Successive governments have trotted out statistics declaring overwhelming public support for execution. But we know that the statistics are easily skewered depending on the wording of questions and the information provided to interviewees. Statistics don’t mean nearly as much as the people who wield them think they do. Too often it seems to have fallen to foreign contributors to Readers in Council to give these matters anything approaching critical public attention. I don’t mean to assess the merits or demerits of the various pro and con arguments. I just mean an unfettered discussion of the matter as an important social issue largely ignored by Japanese and concealed by the government.
Now in “Provide details on hangings or halt them: ex-lay judges” (Japan Times, Tuesday, February 18, 2014) some former lay judges who even participated in death penalty cases lament “feeling guilty that they will sooner or later become ‘indirect murderers’ of fellow human beings.” I was disappointed to read that because it doesn’t speak well of people’s understanding of society or the judicial sentencing issue. Of course judges are partly responsible for killing fellow human beings! Don’t they know it? Capital punishment is judicial state murder. Do they think the law exempts individual citizens from culpability?
None of us is innocent. We like to think we are, but the point is that by supporting the polity through taxes and participation in society we are each of us accomplices in the actions the the polity. I pay taxes in Japan. The Japanese government judicially murders heinous criminals. Therefore I know that I am an accomplice in murder (judicial murder by the state). I am a participant in the society that executes people. It always angers me when the paper quotes judges who hand down death sentences with the excruciatingly lame excuse that the sentence “can’t be helped.” That is a common Japanese excuse for all manner of evil.
It is very disappointing that this elementary lesson, which people ought to learn in high school, is still not understood by adults who serve as lay judges. The debate must proceed with the understanding that we are responsible for what we do as well as for what the government does on our behalf.
Published on Thursday, February 20, 2014 as “Some lay judges just don’t get it.”