Rare tour of gallows to spur debate in Japan

Japan opened up the secretive world of its capital punishment system to the public Friday, offering journalists a rare tour of Tokyo’s main gallows in an effort to stoke debate about a practice widely supported here.

All executions in Japan are carried out by hanging, and no media coverage of executions is permitted. Inmates on death row do not know when they will be executed until the last minute, while family members and lawyers are only told afterward. Along with the United States, Japan is one of the few industrialized countries that maintains capital punishment.

Despite persistent criticism by rights groups such as Amnesty International and the main Japanese bar association, there is little public outcry against capital punishment in Japan, where recent government surveys showed more than 80 percent support ratings.

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Execution chamber opening in Japan could be hot debate

Japanese Justice Minister Keiko Chiba’s decision to allow the media a rare look at an execution chamber this month could spark public debate in a country where a hefty majority supports retaining the death penalty.

Chiba, who used to be a member of a lawmakers’ group opposing capital punishment, had not signed off any executions since she took power last September, but suddenly did so in July. She did not give specific reasons for her move.

But she took the unusual step of attending the hangings, and then said she would open up the gallows in Tokyo to media and set up a group within the ministry to study the death penalty.

Information on the execution process is scarce in Japan, which along with the United States is one of only two Group of Eight rich countries that retain capital punishment.

Japan currently has 107 people on death row.

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