Japan opens up death chamber
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 on Friday.
The move came a month after Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, a foe of capital punishment, announced a review of the practice after she witnessed the first executions since her centre-left government took office 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 window-less room where convicts stand with the noose around their neck, before a trap-door opens below them and they plunge to their deaths.
Convicts told at last minute
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 US, Japan is the only 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 pending execution at the last minute, and for only telling their families afterwards.
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.