60 years of our campaign
Last year, the movement and campaign for a retrial regarding the "Fukuoka Incident" have reached the crucial 60-year milestone since their inception. Since our father Tairyū died in 2000, thanks to the stimulus and encouragement of Sister Helen, every year we have been organizing events throughout Japan and we have been fiercely asking for a retrial throughout Japan so that the new process will begin. However, it has not yet been possible to prove the innocence of Mr. Nishi and the other men. More than 70 years have passed since the "Fukuoka Incident" occurred and with the passage of time, unfortunately, the incident is actually heading towards oblivion.
The problem of criminal justice
The investigative procedures leading to the opening of a retrial in Japan are very different from those in Europe. For example, in Japan, it is not necessary for the police and the prosecutors to reveal all the evidence in a case: for this reason, it is extremely difficult to find new evidence necessary for the opening of a retrial. In addition, in the event that the death row inmate who has requested a retrial is executed or dies for some reason, only the surviving family members, directly connected to the death row inmate, can request a retrial. However, many of the bereaved families generally do not apply for a retrial for fear of being ostracized by society. Moreover, even if a court issues a ruling to initiate a retrial, in Japan, the prosecution can continue to appeal against it. Therefore, regardless of whether the applicant for the retrial is the same detainee or his family after his departure, the prosecution can bury the case in obscurity, taking time and delaying the start of the retrial until the persons concerned have all disappeared. It is no exaggeration to say, therefore, that getting a new process for a retrial in Japan is "as difficult as getting a camel to pass through the eye of a needle."
In fact, in the case of the posthumous retrial for Mr. Nishi, we do not know how much time and money was spent on convincing his grieving family to request a retrial: fortunately, in 2005 we were finally able to obtain consent from a family member and so we submitted the request for the retrial. Unfortunately, this relative also died and the process ended in progress, because it was not possible to find a new applicant. No matter how much we supporters appeal Mr. Nishi's innocence, with the current law it is not possible to pave the way for the request for a retrial. This is absolutely not a problem that concerns only the "Fukuoka Incident", but this is also a problem common to many other cases of false convictions. Among the trials with false convictions in which the accused still continued to proclaim his innocence, there are cases in which even if he died, elderly people from his family somehow continued to demand the reopening of the retrial. However, since the prosecution continued to appeal and since it took time to start a new process, in the end there were no more heir applicants nor any more supporters. As you can understand, there are many problems with the criminal justice system in Japan: in recent years we have collaborated with lawyers and academics to bring the current Japanese law on the opening of retrials up to the level of the EU and other countries. We tried to do everything that was within our reach, presenting ourselves several times to the Diet; with pressure groups we worked hard to revise the law to initiate a new process and invited experts from abroad to give lectures in Japan.
But with most Japanese Diet members disinterested in these legislative amendments which do not bring votes and with limitations on various activities due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is likely that the implementation with supporters from abroad of the revision of the law for a new process will be postponed for the time being until sometime in the future.
Japanese society does not reflect on the past
While taking into account all the circumstances, we cannot hide our horror at the fact that many people consider "the Fukuoka Incident" as an heirloom of the past: such that not only parliamentarians, but also scholars, lawyers and even supporters of the review of trials for false accusations, no longer show any interest in our campaign. Nowadays, it should be taken for granted that the first step that people should take is to save those who suffer from false accusations. We will always be willing, in some way, to offer our support to those who suffer from false accusations, as in the case of the Fukuoka Incident.
However, it is also a fact that some cases like the Fukuoka Incident, when Mr. Nishi and Mr. Ishii died and all the people involved in the incident disappeared, are cases where everything about them could be forgotten by society very easily.
"Those who close their eyes to the past are blind to the present," said Richard von Weizsäcker, the sixth president of the Federal Republic of Germany. Even in Japan, in the past, there have been cases of false accusations where the convicted were later proven innocence, and there have been detainees sentenced to death on false charges and who escaped the gallows. However, the Japanese judiciary did not apologize or reflect on those mistakes and ended up treating them as problems related to particular cases. In essence, the processes in Japan are in a position where "it is not possible to make mistakes". The system of the death penalty continues to remain in force. However, abandoning the cases to themselves, without the possibility of admitting any mistakes and without any verification of the facts, could cause tragic cases like that of Mr. Nishi. The criminal justice system of this country has continued to structurally produce false accusations, almost without any change, since the end of WW2, and it is difficult to prove one's innocence from false accusations as long as the law for the opening of retrials is defective and inadequate.
Future Retrial Campaign
Due to the tragedy of the Covid 19 pandemic, we find ourselves in a situation where we cannot organize, as usual, the national campaign for the process for the opening of a retrial. Therefore, considering this event as an opportunity, as a precious moment in time, to reflect on past history, we are committed to tidying up the huge amount of material produced during the last 74 years since the Fukuoka Incident and the 60 years of the life of the campaign and our movement. In this circumstance, we realize once again that it is important to leave to posterity the history of the Fukuoka Incident and the movement to have a new process for opening retrials, so we are planning the construction of a museum to share the information we have with everyone.
Above all, there are many documents that we are seeing for the first time and, during the review of the existing material, we are able to make new discoveries. We would therefore like to continue to carefully examine and verify the documentation of the past, hoping that new facts, such as those we have discovered, will pave the way for having a new process for opening a retrial.
"Goodwill always prevails over violence. The good intentions of human beings, even if they seem powerless, hide an inexhaustible force like water droplets: these in themselves seem powerless, but if they enter the crack of a rock and become ice, they are able to split huge rocks. If they then become water vapor, they are also able to move the turbine of a huge machine."
These are the words of Dr. Albert Schweizer. Our strength now is just a drop of water; however, we are convinced that even such a small force can one day crush rocks and move turbines. In fact, proving the innocence of Mr. Nishi and his companions might almost seem like a miracle, but for this to occur it is necessary that the drop of water does not dry up.
"The life of a man is heavier than the entire Earth"(Samuel Smiles – British writer).
Our father, Tairyū, and our mother, Michiko, through the movement and campaigns for the opening of the retrial on the Fukuoka Incident, fought for many years to achieve a society that protects the life of even one human being. We think that continuing this movement can help build a road for the reopening of processes and connect with the passing of the baton in the future relay. If we can prove Mr. Nishi's innocence, then this will hasten the revision of the law for the opening of retrials now full of flaws and even the abolition of the death penalty. Above all, we are convinced that this will be one more step towards building a society that protects life. Although, even in the future, the struggle promises to be long and hard, we want to go ahead and continue the campaign undertaken. We will continue to consume many pairs of straw sandals until we meet the day we are waiting for. We will not give up. We can't take off our straw sandals!
Seimeizan Schweitzer Temple