August 27, 2010

Buddhism and Capital Punishment

"Prisoners are not given a date for execution and
their relatives are only told after the hanging."

The great matter of life and death has been at the core of Buddhism since its earliest beginnings. You could argue that death, or the fear of death, is the mother of the religious impulse. We will not die: some part of us, such as we are, endures forever.

Some may be surprised to learn that Japan has the death penalty for crimes such as treason and homicide. Japan's justice minister, Keiko Chiba, is on record as opposing capital punishment, but recently she became the first justice minister to attend an execution in Japan. How is the ancient institution of execution surviving in Japan?: "Official surveys suggest strong public backing for it." The Japanese media were recently given a tour of the place of execution in a Tokyo jail (pictured above):

The 30-minute tour showed the red square on the floor where a convict stands with a noose around their neck before the trapdoor opens beneath them.

The visitors were also taken to a room with a Buddhist altar where condemned prisoners can meet a religious representative, and the viewing chamber.

"There was the smell of incense. The impression was that of sterile objects in a clean, carpeted room," said a reporter from broadcaster NTV.

Footage also showed the room where three staff each push a button which releases the trapdoor - although none knows who actually instigated the action.

The noose was not shown.

Read the whole story here. In Singapore, death-row inmate Sabahan Yong Vui Kong is reading Buddhist books while asking for clemency from the president of the notoriously hard-nosed republic, S. R. Nathan.

Vui Kong, the fifth child in a family of six siblings, was only 18 when he was arrested in Singapore on June 13, 2007 for trafficking 47.27 grams of diamorphine.

He was convicted of the offence and sentenced to death by the Singapore High Court on January 7, 2009. His execution was supposed to have been carried out on Tuesday.

Vui Kong was supposed to be sent to the gallows anytime after August 26 but on Wednesday, Singapore human rights lawyer M Ravi and Malaysian lawyer Ngeow Chow Ying managed to get an extension of Vui Kong’s deadline to submit his clemency to the Singapore president.

Prisons in the United States are likewise full of nonviolent drug offenders. More than 1 in 100 American adults is behind bars, the highest rate in the world. The United States has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prisoners.

Two Buddhist organizations helping prisoners come to the dharma in the U. S. are Prison Dharma Network and the Engaged Zen Foundation. This is a crisis in our nation. A gulag has grown beneath our feet. We must be aware of it.

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