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Masamichi Tanaka

Dénomination Oomoto, Japon

Oomoto’s support for abolishing the death penalty

Masamichi Tanaka, Oomoto
September 7, 2009

The Oomoto Foundation has openly opposed the death penalty eight decades. Beginning in 1930, Onisaburo Deguchi, the Co-Founder of Oomoto, began to promote the abolition of capital punishment. He said: “It is right to abolish a death penalty. The purpose of a criminal justice should be repentance, not revenge. If we kill the criminal then he cannot be reclaimed. When we repay murder with murder it is revenge, and it is against divine love and very harmful.”

Onisaburo also preached: “From the eye of God, the life of a man is heavier than the weight of the earth.” Man consists of spirit and body, and both are distributed by God as the part-spirit and part-body of the Creator of the universe. For this reason, we are called “children of God,” and “shrines of God.”

Each human being is precious and irreplaceable, unique in the great universe. The purpose of our lives in this world is to serve social development and public welfare, and to cultivate and uplift our own spirituality. Suicide and murder are grave offenses against God. Man has a noble mission to work for Divine Providence on behalf of God until the end of his life, accumulating good virtue.

In Oomoto, the idea of abolishing capital punishment grew from belief in the immortality of the soul. Repentance of man during his life in this world is the salvation of spirit. It comes from the mercy and forgiveness of God, and is based on the concept of divine love for the salvation of all humankind.

So for many years, we at Oomoto have given our wholehearted support to abolishing the death penalty in our own country and elsewhere. In Japan, we have encouraged the Diet, which is our parliament, to take steps toward abolition of the death penalty. We especially have supported the Diet Members' League for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, and have repeatedly urged them to bring a bill for the introduction of life imprisonment, establishment of a research commission on the current death penalty system, and related matters to the Diet.

The greatest defect in capital punishment is the tragedy of a false charge, and there are many examples of this. As long as this system continues, the murder of an innocent citizen by the government based on a misjudgment is still lawful. But it is hard to allow this infringement on human rights in our civilized society of the 21st century.

Oomoto has first-hand experience with false charges. It was suppressed twice before World War II by Japanese national authorities. The second "Oomoto incident," which began in 1935 and lasted ten years, was the largest religious suppression in modern Japanese history. At the time, the Japanese government was ultra-nationalistic. Oomoto advocated beliefs in "divine love" and "all religions spring from the same source" and preached doctrines of pacifism, internationalism, and universalism. This raised the suspicions of the authorities, who formed a plan to erase Oomoto from the surface of the earth. They arrested many Oomoto followers and leaders under the suspicion of violating the Maintenance of the Public Order Act and lèse majesté. While a trial was pending, Oomoto property was confiscated and more than 100 religious buildings and shrines were destroyed.

More than 3,000 Oomoto believers across the country were arrested. Onisaburo Deguchi and other leaders were taken into custody and held for years while awaiting trial. Many were tortured to death. Sumiko Deguchi, the Second Spiritual Leader and wife of Onisaburo, spent six years and four months in prison, as the only female prisoner. At the examination, a police told her "your family cannot escape the death penalty." When she received a cup of water from a policeman, he told her, “This is your last cup of water in this world.”

This incident was based on an intentional false charge by the state. Onisaburo Deguchi and others were found not guilty of violating the Maintenance of the Public Order Act at a second trial in 1942. The Supreme Court handed down a judgment of complete innocence in 1945. The charge of lèse majesté was also dropped by the end of the war, and the incident was completely resolved.

But the misery caused by these false charges is beyond description. The grief and sadness of each family who lost a family member by torture were profoundly serious. Many of today’s active members of Oomoto had parents or grandparents among those arrested and tortured. The pain of the suspected person, who was falsely accused, and the wounded heart of the family cannot be swept away.

There was also a cruel press campaign by the mass media accusing Oomoto of paganism. All the Oomoto believers had to hide and avoid people’s cold gaze. There were some believers who had to break relations with their families. For some, making a livelihood was extremely difficult due to discrimination, and some were ejected from their rented houses. Their children were insulted by teachers, and friends threw stones at them, only because they were the followers of Oomoto.

However, we do not blame the government for this violence against Oomoto; we have forgiven them and we no longer have a grudge. We only hope the faults of the past will be corrected by current and future generations. We earnestly wish to realize a true civilized society, so that such tragedies shall not be repeated.

Public opinion in Japan now favors the death penalty in part because of such recent dreadful crimes as infanticide. People naturally harbor resentment against criminals and sympathy toward victims. As religionists we understand these feelings, however, we cannot accept the death penalty that arbitrarily takes the life of a human being. Man must not kill people. Society must embrace this ethic. Abolition of the death penalty is a milepost on the road to a society in which people value all lives.

Many of the problems in Japan’s death penalty system are alleged to be peculiar to Japan.
One of those problems is that the news and information about the death penalty is kept in absolute secrecy. People are uninformed by objective information about the treatment of condemned criminals or the cruelty of execution. Some people point out structural problems in the judicial system, including trial, prison and amnesty, and that the criminal investigation by police and prosecutors ignores human rights.

We are heartened by the fact that a citizen judge system began in May in Japan. This is similar to the trial-by-jury systems in other countries. No longer will a single judge pass judgment in capital crimes. From now on, members of the general public will take part in trials, and these people will often face this issue of the death penalty. We hope this will help drive the public debate on the matter to a favorable conclusion.

We at Oomoto will continue to press our own members of the Diet to push for the abolition of the death penalty in Japan. And we hope the continuing public debate over the abolition of the death penalty will be open, thorough, honest and successful in stemming the excesses of capital punishment.