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Justice Minister Keiko Chiba was criticized Sunday for authorizing the execution of two death row inmates in July as anti-death penalty activists held a protest rally Sunday in Tokyo.

The July 28 hangings of Kazuo Shinozawa, 59, and Hidenori Ogata, 33, were the first under the Democratic Party of Japan-led government launched last September, and Chiba, a former member of a group of parliamentarians opposed to the death penalty, in an unusual move attended the executions, describing it as the “duty of the person who orders it.”

Lawyer Yoshihiro Yasuda, a central figure in the anti-death penalty movement, said during the rally, “Why did this particular justice minister authorize the executions? I feel a strong rage.”

“She was saying before: ‘I want to leave a small seed toward abolishing capital punishment during my tenure.’ She accepted the bureaucrats’ willingness to have death row inmates executed whoever the minister is,” he said.

Former House of Representatives member Nobuto Hosaka, who was secretary general of the Japan Parliamentary League against the Death Penalty, to which Chiba belonged until she became justice minister, said that a Justice Ministry panel she launched after the executions to discuss the system’s future, including possible abolition, may end up being a disappointment.

“The study panel is highly likely to only discuss such things as the manner of execution and the degree of information disclosure,” rather than going as far as the rights and wrongs of the death penalty, he said.

Hosaka also raised concern about Chiba’s plan to allow the news media to visit the death chamber, possibly during August, saying that such an opportunity would only result in the minister enumerating the wrongdoings of the condemned at a press conference amid TV news programs repeatedly airing footage of the chamber and inmates.

DPJ lower house member Hirotami Murakoshi, who is the group’s current secretary general, called on the movement to try to develop into a national campaign on the occasion of the executions.

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