Tokyo: Japan, one of the few industrialised democracies to maintain the death penalty,
threw open the doors to its mystery-shrouded execution chamber for the first time to media Friday.
The move came a month after Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, an opponent of capital punishment, announced a review of the practice after she witnessed the first executions since her centre-left government took power almost a year ago.
At the minister`s urging, Japanese media were allowed inside the glass-walled execution room in the Tokyo Detention House, where convicts, usually multiple murderers, are put to death by hanging.
A red square with a cross on the white floor marks the spot in the windowless room where convicts stand with the noose around their neck, before a trap-door opens below them and they plunge to their deaths.
The mechanism is triggered by one of three wall-mounted push buttons in an adjacent room, pressed simultaneously by three officers, although none of them is told which button is the live one that will cause the prisoner`s death.
In an ante-room, a golden Buddha statue is available for final prayers before the handcuffed convicts are blindfolded and led to their deaths, according to footage by
public broadcaster NHK and other TV stations.
Apart from the United States, Japan is the only major industrialised democracy to carry out capital punishment, a practice that has earned Tokyo repeat protests from European
governments and human rights groups.
Japan has faced particular criticism for only informing death row prisoners of their impending execution at the last minute, and for only telling their families
Amnesty International last year labelled death row conditions in Japan "cruel, inhuman and degrading", blaming the mental strain for tipping many long-term convicts into insanity.
"Each day could be their last and the arrival of a prison officer with a death warrant would signal their execution within hours," the report said.
"Some live like this year after year, sometimes for decades."
The London-based rights group said it found that prisoners on death row were not allowed to talk to one another, and that contact with relatives, lawyers and others could be restricted to as little as five minutes at a time.