22 June 2005

   Already, 3 years have passed since Toshihiko Hasegawa was executed for killing my younger brother for insurance money in 1983. Although the murder took place more than 20 years ago, it continues to haunt me.

  In April, a basic law to protect the rights and interests of crime victims came into force. Looking back on the anguish and suffering I endured, I believe the enactment of this law is a definite step forward.

  But I am distressed that the basic law was enacted in relation to the revised Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code that incorporated measures to enforce more severe punishment on offenders. According to the Justice Ministry, the revision was made because the old laws "did not agree with the perceptions of crime victims." I, however, am strongly against imposing more severe punishment.

  As one who lost a family member to crime, I made repeated pleas to hold off carrying out Hasegawa's death sentence. I personally met the justice minister in 2001 and submitted a written petition. Even so, the execution went ahead at the end of that year. My opinion and feelings were completely ignored. It seems unreasonable that officials of the same government office are now moving to impose more severe punishment "in consideration for the feelings of victims."

  At the time of the murder, Hasegawa was my brother's employer. During the initial trial, I told the prosecution that I felt he deserved only the death penalty.

The incident that took my brother's life also shattered my everyday existence. I blamed everything on Hasegawa and I felt my hatred grow daily. But about 10 years later, I started thinking that I should learn more about the death penalty system. I also found myself thinking strongly that I wanted to meet Hasegawa and ask him why he killed my brother.

When I first met him, he said: "I am sorry for what I did." I had previously read his words of apology in his letters. But actually hearing him say those words carried more weight.

Looking at the man uttering words of apology and trying to atone for his sin, I felt a sense of comfort and healing for the first time. That is not to say that I forgave him. But by meeting him, I felt as though I had finally found the key to setting myself free.

When a person kills another, how can the killer make up for the sin?

I don't have the answer. But when I heard that Hasegawa was drawing pictures as a way to atone, I wanted to believe him.

It is my belief that people can compensate for their wrongdoings only when they are alive. The death penalty is too simplistic a way to settle crimes. As far as I am concerned, Hasegawa's execution did nothing to put my mind at ease. On the contrary, I felt that it deprived me of my chance to get back on my feet again.

I think bereaved families should be given the right to personally meet "perpetrators." But under the existing system, once the death sentence is finalized, they are virtually unable to make contact.

It contradicts the principle that people are innocent until they are proven guilty, because it is only after their guilt is established that suspects can be considered perpetrators.

Furthermore, the court is not venue where defendants can speak freely about what they think and how they really feel. I think the current system should be revised to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment. That would allow families who lost loved ones to crime to meet with the offenders.

When I gives street speeches calling for an end to the death penalty, I am sometimes approached by people who ask if I have ever considered the feelings of bereaved families. Do people think all crime victims want perpetrators to be put to death?

I was also asked why I use the honorific "kun" to address the person who killed my brother. I felt like asking the person, "Do you hate him more than I do?"

People tend to decide what victims are feeling to suit themselves and in the process come to the conclusion that supporting more severe punishments is a gesture of sympathy. This type of thinking makes me feel uneasy. Rather, I want people to listen to each individual victim to understand how each one of us thinks.

I want society and government policies to reflect these various ideas as well as the true feelings of crime victims and their families.

(source: Opinion; Masaharu Harada-- The author is a company employee; Asahi Shimbun)