Two death-row inmates were hanged Friday, in Tokyo and Osaka, in the second round of executions this year after three men went to the gallows in March.
Friday’s hangings were the first ordered by Justice Minister Makoto Taki, who assumed the post June 4. Prisoners on death row now number 130.
Junya Hattori, 40, and Kyozo Matsumura, 31, were hanged because “there was no uncertainty surrounding their convictions,” said Taki, who supports the death sentence.
Hattori, who was hanged at the Tokyo Detention House, raped a 19-year-old university student in the city of Mishima, Shizuoka Prefecture, in his car and burned her to death in January 2002.
Matsumura was executed in the Osaka Detention House for the robbery-murders of a 57-year-old aunt in the city of Nagaokakyo, Kyoto Prefecture, and a 72-year-old uncle in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, within eight days in January 2007.
“I signed documents authorizing the executions after carefully considering each case,” Taki told journalists Friday afternoon.
“As I said when I assumed the post, unless there is any uncertainty concerning a conviction, a justice minister should respect the trial process and the decision of the court,” he said.
Taki is the third justice minister to sign off on executions since the Democratic Party of Japan took office in September 2009. His predecessor, Toshio Ogawa, sent three inmates to the gallows on March 29, while Keiko Chiba personally witnessed two hangings despite her opposition to capital punishment. The four ministers who preceded Chiba refused to condemn any prisoners to death, apparently due to their personal beliefs.
No inmates were hanged last year, but two were executed in 2010. Under the previous Liberal Democratic Party government, seven prisoners were hanged in 2009, 15 in 2008, nine in 2007 and four in 2006.
The ministry has been debating capital punishment since the DPJ swept to power in the 2009 general election. But Ogawa scrapped an internal study panel in March and also canceled plans to set up a broader discussion panel on the issue, arguing the pros and cons have been discussed sufficiently and that the ultimate decision should be left up to the public, of which the overwhelming majority supports the death sentence, a government poll suggested in 2009.
“I myself have participated in the debate over the deathpenalty. While there are both advantages and disadvantages, I believe we should not abolish capital punishment at this stage,” Taki said.
Japan and the U.S. are the only countries in the Group of Eight major industrialized economies where death-row inmates are still executed, according to Amnesty International, which said executions are still carried out in 57 nations in total.
“I am very disappointed. Last year, there were no executions for the first time in 19 years,” Hideki Wakabayashi, executive director of Amnesty International Japan, told The Japan Times. “But this year, prisoners were hanged in March and again today. Such acts demonstrate the government’s willingness to stick with capital punishment.”
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations also released a statement Friday urging the government to freeze all executions and hold a national debate about abolishing the death sentence.
A total of 141 countries have either abolished the death sentence or have effectively abolished it and have not conducted any executions in years, even though their courts can in theory still hand down the punishment.
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