Saturday, August 28, 2010

Asian Buddhism and the Death Penalty

I won't comment more on a recent posts  in the Buddhist blogosphere that compared Western Buddhism to Asian Buddhism, and this post is not about that.  Asian cultures are different, and not all in a good romantic way compared to the West.

There's a lot of dirt everywhere these days.

In the New York Times today there is an article on the Japanese execution chambers - they hang folks still, but like the US, it takes a long time to exact their death penalty. Shoko Asahara is still not dead, according to Wikipedia.  The description of the  execution chamber and the Japanese execution protocol goes like this:

The journalists were led through the chambers, one by one: a chapel with a Buddhist altar where the condemned are read their last rites; a small room, also with a Buddha statue, where a prison warden officially orders the execution; the execution room, with a pulley and rings for the rope and a trapdoor where the condemned inmate stands; and the viewing room where officials witness the hanging.
The inmate is handcuffed and blindfolded before entering the execution room, officials said. Three prison wardens push separate buttons, only one of which releases the trapdoor — but they never find out which one. Wardens are given a bonus of about $230 every time they attend an execution.
Satoshi Tomiyama, the Justice Ministry official who later briefed the foreign news outlets and others excluded from the tour, said that wardens take the utmost care to treat death row inmates fairly and humanely.
The Buddha statues can be switched with an altar of the indigenous Japanese Shinto religion for followers of that faith, he said. For Christians, the prison provides a wooden cross. Inmates are given fruit and snacks before their execution, and sentences are not carried out on weekends, national holidays and around the New Year.
Mr. Tomiyama read a statement from a warden who carries out executions but did not identify him by name. Executions “are carried out somberly, and the tension is enough to make my hand shake,” he quoted the warden as saying. 

 The article also notes, that with its 99% conviction rate, there's a good chance that Japan's got innocent people on their death row.

Japan is not alone; there is Singapore as well.

JOHOR BAHRU: If clemency is granted from Singapore President Sellapan Ramanathan, Malaysian drug trafficker Yong Vui Kong said that his greatest wish would be to join the anti-drug campaign and guide other young people on the edge to return to the right path.
He said that he might have become a criminal who stops at no evil and brings great devastation to the community today if he was not arrested by the police at that time.
Yong, who has been imprisoned in Singapore's Changi Prison over the past three years said that he is no longer afraid of the uncertain date of the execution.
He said, "I'm not afraid of death anymore! However, I hope to try my best helping more people learn the Buddha dharma before I die."
Yong was sentenced to death after being convicted of drug trafficking when he was 18 years old. Over 100,000 Malaysians had signed to support a petition requesting clemency for Yong from the Singapore President.

 Singapore, of course, is famously aggressive when it comes to executing drug traffickers; there are signs in its airports informing those who've already arrived that they get the death penalty if they've brought narcotics into the country illegally.

Yong's case is particularly poignant.

Vui Kong's mother was depressed most of the time as she felt sad about the impoverished conditions she was living in, the abuse she was enduring and most of all, that she could not provide better for her children. She missed her children badly. Vui Kong was the only one who stayed with her in that place of pain. Her other children had been scattered around Malaysia after the parents' divorce.

His mother, who worked as a dishwasher,earning RM$200 a month, was also beaten and scolded often by others. The young Vui Kong did not know why, even when his mother did nothing wrong. All these had an adverse effect on Vui Kong, witnessing the violence and abuse heaped on his mother.

It was because of this that, at the age of 12, he decided to leave the estate. He lied to his mother that he had found someone to be his godfather and would go and live with him. The truth, however, was that he planned to find work and help take his mother away from his grandfather and that house.

Of course, being so young, Vui Kong ended up in a worse state than his mother. He was soon kicked out of the house of his "godfather". This "godfather" was in fact an operator of an illegal casino and a gambling machine, or horse machine, as Vui Kong described it.

He was on the street and had to beg friends to put him up. He went hungry many-a-time and took on odd jobs such as washing cars for RM3 a day. It was a hard time for me, he said. He lived this way for a couple of years or so.

One day he visited his mother. He saw that she was starving herself. "She ate some rice and little vegetables. Other times, she would eat rice with just one or two fried bananas which cost 2 cents each," he explained. "Why're you starving yourself?" he asked his mother. She answered that she was saving up so that when her children got married, she would be able to give them some money. When Vui Kong heard this, he turned away and cried. His mother was always thinking of her children, despite her own circumstances.

It was this incident which made Vui Kong decide to go to Kuala Lumpur (KL), the capital city of Malaysia. There, he would definitely be able to find good jobs and make money to help his mother. This, he resolved to do. But at the moment, he had no money to even buy a ticket to KL. And so he took on a job in Kota Kinabalu, in Sabah. After a couple of months, he saved enough for a plane ticket to KL.

There is a petition to sign. I think this is a much more worthy cause than fuming about restoring honor to America.  It is honorable, I think, to ask for clemency in this case.


Jordan said...

I have been to Singapore, It is one of the only foreign ports I have been to that I felt "Safe." If there is a seedy element there, they keep well hidden away. Also, the place is just plain clean... And commercialized as all get up.

Still an incredibly beautiful place with a melting pot of cultures much like out own, but they seem to have governing that down to a pretty precise science.

People interested in politics should really put some effort into seeing how they have become so successful and powerful as a tiny island country.

Mumon said...

Hi Jordan,

I've been to Singapore too, and early on a Sunday morning, say 5-6AM, it's just as dirty as any other cities I've seen.

Of course there are very few cities in which I've felt unsafe. The only two that come to mind, actually, are Naples, and to a much lesser extent, Rome. Maybe Athens, but not really compared to Naples. Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing, Sydney, Warsaw, Shanghai, Wenzhou, Dandong, Hong Kong, London (Kensington, where there was the bombing in '07), no problem whatsoever.

Jordan, I'd like to know where you've been that you didn't feel safe by comparison. (Of course, maybe it's a cultural thing; being originally from NY, maybe I've got the "Don't mess with me" look down, even though I'm 5'6" and 140lbs. But I doubt it. I could just be naive.

But one other thing about Singapore: they do some things right, that's for sure. Like other countries, they've known how to invest for the future.

Jordan said...

I doubt that, just visited Singapore again. They bring out prison work crews to clean up the streets in the wee hours of the morning.

Some of the nastier places I have been are Subic Bay and Pattya beach. I'm in Hong Kong right now and it appears pretty nasty too. But then again, we are on the docks and cant go much beyond them and that is where just about any berg looks it's worst.