Two death-row inmates, including one who was seeking a retrial, were executed Friday morning, the Justice Ministry said The ministry, as usual in such cases, did not release the names in its brief press release, but judiciary sources identified the two as Teruo Ono, 62, and Kazuo Sagawa, 48. The two were convicted of separate murders. Ono was executed at the Fukuoka Detention House and Sagawa at the Tokyo Detention House, the sources said. Ono’s execution was unusual because he was in the process of requesting a retrial, claiming the final ruling contained errors. He had been sentenced to death for killing an elderly woman and stealing 20,000 yen from her in Nagasaki Prefecture in September 1977. Ono visited the home of the victim — a total stranger — to take shelter from rain and killed her after he learned she lived alone, according to court rulings. Sagawa was sentenced to death for the murder of a female acquaintance and her daughter and stealing some 740,000 yen in cash and valuables from their home in Omiya, Saitama Prefecture, in April 1981. Earlier in the week, civic activists demanding an end to capital punishment filed a request with the Tokyo High Court seeking to halt Ono’s anticipated hanging, but he was executed before seeing a court decision. Sagawa’s supporters had also requested legal protection under habeas corpus earlier this week, but he was executed before receiving a decision. A group of non-partisan Diet members filed a protest with Justice Minister Hideo Usui upon hearing the news of the execution. According to Lower House member Nobuaki Futami of the Liberal Party, Usui argued that, in general, opponents of capital punishment appear to be making retrial requests merely to delay executions. He went on to argue that abuse of the procedure could lead to a hollowing out of the death penalty system. “We not only protested the fact that the executions were conducted,” Yasuko Takemura of the Democratic Party of Japan said. “The two were executed during their request for retrial and legal protection. I am very angry at the authorities of this country.” Lawyer Izumi Suzuki, who is helping another death-row inmate seeking a retrial, also criticized Friday’s execution of Ono as a gross violation of human rights. “Execution of an inmate who was still seeking a retrial invalidates the retrial system itself,” Suzuki said. According to judicial sources, about 20 of the 55 death-row inmates whose rulings have been finalized are seeking a retrial. The executions bring to five the number of people Japan has put to death this year. Three people were hanged Sept. 10 — one each at the Tokyo, Sendai and Fukuoka detention houses. Japan had an unofficial moratorium on executions from the end of 1989 to March 1993, but hangings were resumed in 1993 under then Justice Minister Masaharu Gotoda. The executions came just one day after Amnesty International urged the government to halt the two executions. The London-based human rights group said Thursday it had received information that several executions might take place Friday and was making an 11th-hour attempt to get Tokyo to change its mind. “This move would fit a pattern from previous years in which executions were carried out during the parliamentary recess and holiday period in order to minimize public and parliamentary reactions to the use of the death penalty,” Amnesty said. “At a time when Japan should be taking the lead in protecting human rights in Asia, it continues to kill its own citizens with the death penalty,” it said. Amnesty called on Tokyo to stop the hangings and guarantee the security and welfare of prisoners as provided for under the government’s own rules for penal institutions. It said the death penalty in Japan is particularly cruel as executions are often veiled in secrecy and carried out without the knowledge of families or lawyers, and apparently in an arbitrary manner.

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