Hope for a meeting between Francis and former prisoner Hakamada

Iwao Hakamada, 83, spent 48 years on death row for a quadruple murder he probably did not commit. For Catholic and civil society activists, the Pope's embrace would put the spotlight on the death penalty in Japan.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – A meeting between Pope Francis and former prisoner Iwao Hakamada during the pontiff's trip to Japan "would send a clear signal to Japanese society. The death penalty is wrong and the Pope is against it,” say some Catholic and civil society activists.

The pontiff will be in the Far East from 23 to 26 November, after a stop in Thailand. The Holy See has just released the schedule, but as usual it does not include private and impromptu events, but the theme of the journey is clear: ‘Protect Life’.

It is likely that Francis will speak out again against nuclear weapons and talk about youth suicide, which has reached epidemic proportions in Japan. Many also believe that the Pope will address the issue of the death penalty, which is still in force in the country.

Hakamada, a former boxer, holds the world record for time spent on death row. In 2014, a court ruling based on new DNA evidence, led to his release but over the years his mental state has deteriorated. He became a Catholic on Christmas Eve 1984.

His sister, Hideko, 86, wrote to the Vatican last May. In her letter, she wrote that “it would be the best gift for my brother if the pope could meet with him [. . .] in a quiet and calm atmosphere, not as a spectacular event.”