For I'm as free as a bird now
And this bird you cannot change
Oh, no I can't change.
- Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Free Bird" (1973)
Amid the flurry of articles about the freeing of Hakamada Iwao (Link) a key point is not being emphasized enough.
Hakamada is still alive.
The list of persons on death row not very long -- with Hakamada's release for retrial 131 men and women are in prison awaiting their hangings -- and Japanese Ministers of Justice are rarely squeamish about ordering executions. Tanigaki Sadakazu, the current minister, is reputed to be a soft-hearted soul. He has, however, signed eight death warrants since his appointment. Even Chiba Keiko, a death penalty opponent, ordered executions during her term in office. (Link)
Despite there being a very short list to choose from and pressure to press forward with executions, Hakamada's name never came up.
It's the dog that did not bark in the night.
A long time ago, probably long before the Supreme Court confirmed Hakamada's death sentence in 1980, Justice Ministry employees must have determined that their colleagues across the street at the National Police Agency had conned the prosecutors and the judges. Perhaps "Not Hakamada. He is innocent" was a part of the secret lore passed on by each Justice Minister to his or her successor.
However it happened, what could have happened did not happen.
So as we decry the injustice of an almost certainly innocent man spending more than half a lifetime on death row, let us remember that upon death row is where he stayed. Somehow for decades persons whose identities will remain a secret prevented his sentence from ever being carried out.
In a country where public support for the death penalty clocks in at around 80%, that is amazing...and encouraging.
Photo image: Umineko (Larus crassirostris) and yurikamome (Larus ridibundus) off of Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture on 23 March 2014.
Photo image courtesy: MTC