Convicts had murdered two victims each

Two men hanged in latest round of executions

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Two death-row inmates were hanged Thursday morning, each for killing two people, amid a series of crimes ranging from extortion to robbery.

Hanged were Mitsuo Fujishima, 55, and Ryoji Kagayama, 63.

Fujishima drowned his ex-wife’s aunt in March 1986 while skipping probation for an assault conviction to prevent her from reporting him to the police. Shortly after, he also drowned his ex-wife’s boyfriend during an attempt to extort him for getaway money, after luring him to his death.

Kagayama fatally mugged a 24-year-old Chinese student in July 2000 and injured a male witness who was trying to apprehend him. He killed another person during a separate robbery eight years later.

At a hastily arranged news conference following the executions, Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki condemned the crimes as “cruel” and “motivated by selfishness.”

“The loss of these victims’ lives caused unimaginable pain to their families,” Tanigaki said in the carefully scripted announcement. “As a matter of fact, each case was repeatedly discussed by the courts. I carefully mulled them over, too, before signing the final order.”

Fujishima spent 18 years on death row after his sentence was finalized in 1995, but Kagayama only spent a year. Asked about the large difference, Tanigaki dodged the question and repeated that he scrutinized the convicts’ records and “made careful decisions.”

In a statement released by the Japan branch of Amnesty International after the executions, the human rights organization blasted the government’s perceived reluctance to disclose information on capital punishment policies and said the public should be told more about the practice, including the criteria used to finalize death sentences and the proceedings leading up to executions.

Noting the administration’s heavy-handed passage of the controversial state secrets law, which increases the penalties for leakers of classified information, Amnesty expressed concern that the public’s right to know about the capital punishment system might further be stifled and that the new law could jeopardize Japan’s image as a democracy.

“We urge the government to kick off a nationwide debate over (capital punishment) as soon as possible,” it said.

Tanigaki said he is keenly aware of the international criticism surrounding capital punishment but nevertheless stood his ground, emphasizing that the death penalty is a duly legalized process in Japan and that he has no qualms about maintaining it in light of current public support.

According to a government survey in 2009, 85.6 percent of the public thinks “capital punishment is forgivable under some circumstances.”

Thursday’s hangings brought the number of death-row inmates down to 129. Of them, 85 are applying for their cases to be reopened and 25 are requesting amnesty.