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The government on Friday defended the December execution of a death-row inmate who had been requesting a retrial, saying the justice minister has “the power and duty” to carry out the death sentence.

The government said the minister can order an execution even before a court decision on a retrial request because of this and that such an execution would not “infringe upon the independence of the judiciary.”

The statement was issued Friday in response to an inquiry by Nobuto Hosaka, a Lower House member of the Social Democratic Party. Hosaka submitted the inquiry to the government concerning its policy on executions following the Dec. 17 hanging of Teruo Ono, 62.

The execution was extremely unusual in that Ono was still in the process of seeking a retrial, claiming the final court ruling in his case contained errors. Ono was sentenced to death for killing a woman and stealing 20,000 yen from her in Nagasaki Prefecture in September 1977.

Hosaka submitted to the government a protest over the execution, saying the justice minister infringed upon the power of judicial authorities because a court had yet to decide whether to retry Ono.

In the statement, the government said the justice minister “fully takes into consideration whether the convicts are requesting a retrial or not in ordering their execution. “If, however, they make repeated requests for a retrial, stating the same reasons as indicated in earlier requests, which have already been rejected by the court, the justice minister cannot help but order an execution, because their latest request would naturally be rejected again,” the statement said.