More than seventy years have passed since the Fukuoka Incident occurred. It cannot be denied the Incident has been weathering away every year, even though we have kept on holding many events throughout Japan appealing to people for the necessity of a retrial.
In Japan, if a wrongfully convicted prisoner has already been executed or has already died, only a member of his or her family can ask for a retrial to begin. Even this is extremely difficult to happen as the family members of a convicted prisoner are terrified that they will be ostracized by society in general. This procedure has been in place since the Second World War and it greatly favors the police and the prosecution. It is a big structural legal problem.
In fact, as in the case of Mr. Nishi, we spent a great deal of time and money in making contact with his family to ask for their agreement in starting a retrial. We finally succeeded in getting their agreement in 2005. However, after the request for a retrial was rejected in 2009, his family refused to contact us anymore. Therefore, even though we are still seeking a posthumous retrial again, there is no means to open a retrial under the current Japanese law.
The procedural law for starting a retrial in Japan is very different from those used in the European Union countries. For instance, in Japan the police and the prosecutors can hide or alter evidence in a retrial. Also, if the prosecution stages a special complaint to the Supreme Court, the start of the trial will be prolonged still further, resulting in the delay of the decision to retrial again. The prosecutors can even hold the retrial up until the convicted prisoner has died.
We believe that there have been some cases where innocent people have been kept on death row and other cases where innocent people have been executed. In fact, even today, the method by which false accusations are made is almost the same as the one which led to Mr. Nishi’s wrongful conviction in1947. If the Fukuoka Incident had fundamentally been resolved, other false accusations would not have occurred. In other words, if the Incident cannot be resolved, the tragedy of wrongful convictions will continue into the future.
As you can see, there are many defects in the criminal prosecution procedure in Japan. Therefore, we have been trying to bring the existing Japanese retrial law into line with the retrial laws in other countries, such as those in the European Union. Then, if we can win these retrials, in accordance with our most ardent desire, we will be able to abolish the death penalty in Japan.
So we have tried very hard to amend the present retrial law, for the past several years, asking the Diet to pass this reform bill into law. We also invited people from abroad who are well versed in the retrial law in order to put pressure on the Japanese government to change the existing law. However, we have come to understand that it is very hard and almost impossible for us to accomplish this under the current government and that it might be very difficult to win a retrial during our lifetime, but it is natural that we will keep trying to do this as much as possible.
In fact, we have continued our campaign for sixty years since our parents started it in 1961. However, most people nowadays disregard the Fukuoka Incident as a relic of the past. We are sorry that even human rights activists, such as lawyers and professors, take no notice of our campaign. We have even been dropped from some groups which are working for ongoing campaigns. It is a fact that some cases like the Fukuoka Incident are easily forgotten once a wrongfully convicted prisoner has died or has been executed.
We have been concerned about this kind of society in which past mistakes have not been admitted to, and where, without any historical verification, the truth has been thrown into the darkness of history. Furthermore, we are worried about people who believe Japan is a peaceful and safe country. In order to resolve these problems which are deeply rooted in Japanese society, we have decided to keep on conveying the truth to people.
People might say that it is nonsense to keep banging on about those old incidents like the Fukuoka Incident, but as Richard Von Weizsacker, the 6th President of the Federal Republic of Germany, said, “Those who close their eyes to the past are blind to the present.” We realized that it is important for us to leave the materials regarding our campaign on record for future generations. Therefore, we would like, first of all, to concentrate on sorting out the materials and making them into databases which can be displayed online and then to start setting up the data library for future use.
In order to attain the goal which our father left us, realizing a society which protects the life of a man, as in the saying of Samuel Smiles, a Scottish author, “The life of a man is heavier than the entire Earth,” we will still have to work hard and it will be a long fight, but we would like to go forward, even one step closer, to such a society. Until then, we cannot take off our straw sandals, even if we wear out many of our straw sandals!
Seimeizan Schweitzer Temple