Saturday, March 29, 2014

On Hakamada's Survival

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


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post and others.

Shingetsu News Agency said...

There's a valid point in what you are saying, but your conclusion may be a touch overstated. What I would find "encouraging" is if one of those officials from the so-called "Ministry of Justice" who knew decades ago that Hakamada was innocent might have felt morally obliged to actually speak up and say so. Even if the poor man stumbles out of prison this week at age 78, he does so broken in mind and spirit. He may have escaped the hangman's noose, but what he got instead was slow torture and gradual death of the soul. I don't think any bureaucrat can take any bows or the public take any great comfort about that record.

MTC said...

Shingetsu News Agency -

What can a person or even a group of persons do when he/seh/they "know" something to be true, but cannot prove it? Especially when what is "knownn" is that the police lied?

Anonymous said...

MTC, your post is fantastical. A current running through your blogging is a deep respect for the bureaucrats running "this blessed land". Another current is a the valuation of "data" as many who have followed your thinking on the number of places in hoikuen have been reminded. In this situation, without any data whatsoever, you make up an appalling tale about how some officials kept Hakamada-san alive because they believed he was actually innocent. Let me contribute my own fantasy.

The Japanese judicial system values confession and repentance but Hakamada-san renounced his confession and maintained he was innocent after his conviction. A number of measures were used to force a confession out of him such as solitary confinement for twenty years. I don't think we will ever know other measures but in light of prisoners dying from being restrained in leather belts and a recent post on the sexual assault of prisoners in solitary confinement by guards, I would argue his survival of a 48 year wait on death row is due to an unimaginably strong will for justice and self-belief and not to the actions or inactivity of the bureaucrats running the prison system.

MTC said...

Annymous -

You conflate the National Police Agency with all the officials and employees of the national government. This improper.

I am full in agreement with your assessment that the NPA is a deeply flawed organization and often a law unto itelf. I would add that too many of the nation's judges are otime serving rubber stampers whose only concern is the preservation of their pensions.

However, Hakamada's survival demonstrates that there are decent folk within the Ministry and elsewhere who made sure his number did not come up.

Whilst acknowledging the horror, we must appreciate acts of kindness and defiance, however small. Not so as to congratulate but so as to encourage.