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Death Penalty Information

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Japan: Interview with former death row inmate
Q & A: "Confessions Are Not Always True"----Interview with Sakae Menda,
exonerated death row inmate

Japan is the only member of the Group of Seven industrialised nations
other than the United States to retain capital punishment. And unlike
capital punishment in the U.S., Japan's use of the death penalty is on the
According to Amnesty International, 102 people are waiting to be hanged in
one of Japan's 7 execution chambers, the largest number in over half a
Thus far, 4 prisoners have been released from death row in Japan after
being proven innocent.
Sakae Menda was the 1st.
In 1948, at the age of 23, Menda was convicted of a double axe murder. The
conviction was based on Menda's confession, extracted after he was held
for 3 weeks in a police station with little sleep, water or food, and no
access to a lawyer.
In 1983, the court finally acknowledged that the police had concealed
Menda's alibi and he was released.
IPS Correspondent Mithre J. Sandrasagra spoke with Menda, now 81, at the
U.N., ahead of a General Assembly vote on a death penalty moratorium
expected in November.
IPS: Confessions carry enormous weight in prosecutions in Japan, and a
reported 99 % of people charged with crimes in Japan are convicted. What
do you think of this system?
SM: We must change the system. We value confessions too much in Japan. We
must value evidence more because confessions in Japan are sometimes things
that judicial authorities make up. Confessions are not always true.
IPS: The police coerced your confession out of you. Could you speak about
SM: They ask leading questions over and over. I couldn't eat at all, they
refused water. This led to the confession.
IPS: Did they have any evidence against you?
SM: There was no evidence at all against me.
IPS: Can you describe the process you had to navigate to get a retrial?
SM: There is no guarantee of a lawyer in Japan. I appealed for retrial on
my own many times. I was rejected several times. The 3rd time, I hired a
lawyer. I had to pay so much. Even this failed.
IPS: Japanese Justice Ministry officials claim that the system of secret
executions is the most humane form of capital punishment. Japanese
officials keep state executions out of public view and shrouded in
secrecy. Not even the condemned prisoners know the day they will die. Can
you describe the mentality of the prisoners on Japan's death row?
SM: My fellow inmates knew that their lives would end there, so they gave
up. Many of them became religious. If they must execute, it would be much
better for them to let prisoners know in advance so that they can prepare
IPS: Were you allowed access to psychiatric professionals?
SM: Psychologists were not present. That is not something big in Japan.
IPS: The bodies of many executed prisoners go unclaimed in Japan because
families disassociate themselves from the accused. What became of your
relationship with your family?
SM: I was disowned by my father. I didn't have much contact with any of my
family while I was in prison. There is a big difference among death row
prisoners, between those whose families come and take care of them and
those that do not come at all. It makes a difference to how they get
treated by the officers in the prison. The officers treat those that are
abandoned by their families like they are abandoned by society.
IPS: The Japanese government awarded you compensation for your wrongful
sentencing and incarceration. Has this helped you? Thus far, how have you
found the process of reintegrating into society?
SM: It is not a nationally recognised compensation. I just get money for
the time I spent in prison. As for reintegration, it is the society that
is very cold. Society refuses to accept me. They look at me as an axe
murderer and ex-death row inmate. It is very difficult to reenter society.
IPS: Polls indicate that many people in Japan support the death penalty.
Is there a strong grassroots campaign against the death penalty?
SM: There are movements against the death penalty. They are not very
public and not very big. Amnesty International's work in Japan is the
probably the biggest movement. I have been part of this movement for over
20 years.
IPS: Are there any inklings of change from within the government to change
the system?
SM: Yes. But very, very little.
(source: IPS News)
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