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 gennaio 2020 


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By Elaine Lies TOKYO -- On a cold winter's morning six weeks ago, Toshihiko Hasegawa was told without warning that it was the last day of his life. By noon, the 51-year-old death row inmate at Nagoya Detention House, west of Tokyo, had been hanged. His family was not told until it was all over. Capital punishment has roused little debate among Japanese, who polls show strongly support the death penalty. But with Japan and the United States the only two advanced nations where the death penalty is carried out, international pressure is increasing and questions are being raised. Unusually for Japan, even some politicians are starting to discuss the issue, and a group of lawmakers has begun working on a proposal to abolish the death penalty. It is the first such move in nearly half a century. "For whom is this death penalty carried out?" said Shizuka Kamei, a heavyweight in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who heads the lawmakers group. "If the national authority does not protect human life, I do not believe you can say that the nation is sound," he told a recent news conference, which also involved global human rights group Amnesty International. Masaharu Harada, whose brother was killed by Hasegawa, says the death penalty does little to ease the pain of a victim's relatives -- one main argument cited in its favor in Japan. "The crime will remain with me as long as I live. But we should use the fact of Hasegawa's execution to think about the death penalty," he told the same gathering. "Did his execution bring me satisfaction? No, not one bit." There are believed to be about 50 death row inmates in Japan. While the United States executes many more prisoners each year -- more than 60 were put to death there in 2001 alone, as opposed to 41 in Japan since 1993 -- Japan has been singled out for the unusual cruelty of its procedures. In line with standard practice, Hasegawa was not told of his impending execution until the morning it took place. A Justice Ministry official said Japan's procedures were set with consideration for the prisoners' peace of mind. "They are very insecure and unstable, so telling them too far before the execution would be cruel," he said. Critics allege the opposite is true. "Frankly, it must be terrible to wake up every morning and wait to see if this is the last day of their life," said Emma Bonino, a European Union lawmaker and former EU commissioner for humanitarian affairs. But support for the death penalty is strong, bolstered by crimes such as the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 and made thousands ill. A 1999 survey, the most recent available, found that some 80 percent of Japanese were in favor of capital punishment. Many appeared to favor the classic argument used by death penalty proponents -- that hanging deters crimes. Lawmaker Kamei, a former policeman, disagreed. "Then serious crimes should be way down in Japan and the United States. But, at least here, they are rising rapidly."

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