The Sant'Egidio Community and the death penalty in Japan: some stages
of the campaign
Starting from the meeting for peace held in Assisi in 1986 on initiative of Pope John Paul II, the Sant'Egidio Community has been organizing a meeting, every year in a different city of the world, in order to bring together religious leaders from every country in the world. During these years have been greatly increasing contacts and relationships of mutual respect and personal friendships with representatives of the major schools of thought Buddhist, Shinto and linked to many other realities of
Japan, both the traditional one and the more modern one.
The Sant'Egidio Community was able to bring together Sister Helen Prejean and Ven. Furukawa in Romania. In fact, in the context of the meeting for peace in Bucharest in 1998 a conference on the death penalty took place as well, and it was attended by Ven.Furukawa (monk, founder of the Semeizan Schweitzer Temple, who had participated in other meetings for peace organized by Sant'Egidio) and Sister Helen Prejean, American nun known for her civic engagement alongside the condemneds.
It was then that Ven.Furukawa told his incredible story of friendship with two condemneds: he succeeded in saving one of the two and making him free, then hosting him at his home. The other one was suddenly put to death.
May 7, 1999- Prof. Riccardi, founder of the Sant'Egidio Community, receiving the prestigious Niwano 1999 award, launched from Tokyo his appeal for a worldwide moratorium on executions as from 2000. “The death penalty- Prof. Riccardi stated in his speech after having received the award - contradicts the values ??on which relies
the insistent request of respect for human rightsmade to the rest of the world. A global moratorium on executions and a review of the problem would positively influence the spiritual and social development around the world – Riccardi added, remembering that the proposal had been made jointly by Sant'Egidio with Amnesty International and other humanitarian organizations .
June18, 2001- On the Sant'Egidio Community’s initiative and in collaboration with Amnesty International, was held in Rome a meeting to welcome and introduce to the public and reporters an important Italian Japanese delegation of abolitionist members including Mr. Sakae Menda, freed from death row after 34 years, because believed innocent.
In 2002, the Sant'Egidio Community launched an appeal from the pages of its website www.santegidio.org for the life of Seijiro Yamano, 64 years, held in the Osaka death row since 1982.
May 23, 2003 - The Sant'Egidio Community organized in collaboration with other organizations “Together for Life, a conference that was attended by Amnesty International Japan, several Japanese associations that have been fighting in defense of human rights (Forum 90, the Diet Members 'League for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, Semeizan Schweitzer Temple, League for the Abolition of Death Penalty, Human Rights Center for the prisoners' rights, Shinsyu Otaniha, Rissho Kosei Kai, Kai Jinrui Aizen, Eiheiji Temple, Association of Mr. Yamano's friends and others), by several communities belonging to Japanese traditional religions, such as the Oomoto and finally by many members related to the Japanese Catholic Church (several local churches, the Focolari’s Movement, the Franciscan Friars and others). Among the speakers even Mr. Kenjiro ISHII, freed after 30 years in the death row, still waiting for a new process that does completely acquit him. All these organizations, mainly religious but also secular in inspiration, have found, by adopting a peaceful and non-violent alternative to the capital punishment, a ground where it’s possible to meet together for life. Together for Life (read article in the following pages, The Catholic Weekly June 1, 2003 Visit of the Secretary-General of St. Egidio Community to appeal the abolition of the death penalty).
September 2003 - In Achen, Germany, during a meeting for peace promoted by the Sant'Egidio Community, there was also a discussion about the death penalty in Japan, at the conference entitled "The abolition of the death penalty : a target for the twenty-first century ", that was attended, among others, by Misaki Yagishita, the representative of the Japanese section of Amnesty International, which gave an overview of the current situation, also providing reports on the latest positive developments regarding the perspectives that have been opened even after the Conference held in Japan in May.
Several commitments are planned for 2004. Meanwhile, a delegation of the Sant'Egidio Community will return to Japan for a Death Penalty Seminar to be held in Tokyo, Sophia University,on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2004. In addition to the participation of numerous religious groups that have joined the network “Call for a moratorium now”, many other organizations have already confirmed their support, convinced that together can support a civil alternative to the capital punishment.
In addition, the network of friendship, in favour of the diffusion of a culture of life,
has been growing in Japan.