Brushing aside renewed public concerns over capital punishment, the government executed a 68-year-old death row inmate Thursday morning for three “brutal” and “selfish” murders committed seven years ago. Two of the victims were children.
In November 2007, Masanori Kawasaki sneaked into the Kagawa Prefecture home of Keiko Miura, his 58-year-old sister-in-law, and stabbed her multiple times. He also knifed to death the victim’s two grandchildren, Akane Yamashita, 5, and Ayana, 3. Kawasaki then buried their bodies nearby.
The Supreme Court finalized his death penalty in July 2012.
Thursday’s execution comes as public concern over capital punishment flared anew in March after the release of Iwao Hakamada, the world’s longest-serving death row inmate, upon a review of the DNA evidence that found Hakamada spent nearly five decades behind bars for murders he almost certainly didn’t commit.
Japan and the United States are the only Group of Eight industrialized nations that put people to death.
At a news conference after the hanging, Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki condemned Kawasaki’s deeds as “brutal” and “driven by selfish reasons,” noting the killings left kin grief-stricken to an “unimaginable degree.”
As he did following previous executions, Tanigaki defended the hanging as the outcome of “careful scrutiny.”
“We went over his case repeatedly before greenlighting his hanging,” Tanigaki said.
Of the 129 inmates now on death row, 89 are seeking retrials and 24 amnesty.
When asked to comment on the timing of the hanging, Tanigaki declined to elaborate.
“As justice minister, I consider it my highest priority to do everything in my capacity to confirm if an individual really committed the deed they are held culpable for” to avoid wrongful executions, he said.
Tanigaki added that he doesn’t think the capital punishment system needs to be reviewed at this time.
Human rights group Amnesty International was quick to express outrage, saying the hanging ignored the global community’s calls on Japan to end the “dehumanizing” practice.
Regarding the Hakamada incident, the group said the government is deeply reproachable for leaving him exposed to the terror of a looming execution for nearly five decades despite “extremely high odds of his innocence.”
“The government should take this fact seriously and do its utmost to overhaul the current criminal justice system. And as a first step for that, we believe it’s imperative capital punishment be suspended immediately,” the group said, adding that few details of the death penalty are disclosed to the public. The Japan Federation of Bar Association, too, issued a statement demanding capital punishment be halted and more information be disclosed to the public to spur a robust debate on the issue.