A convicted murderer was hanged Thursday morning for robbing and gunning down the owner of a restaurant in Yokohama’s Chinatown in May 2004.
Tokuhisa Kumagai, 73, was put to death after Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki signed the order for the execution, the sixth under the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office last December.
About a month after the slaying, Kumagai attempted another robbery during which he shot an employee at Shibuya Station in Tokyo. The station worker narrowly escaped death, but was partially paralyzed.
For this incident, Kumagai was convicted of attempted murder and attempted robbery.
He was also convicted of attempted arson and robbery for earlier incidents.
During a hastily arranged news conference after the hanging, Tanigaki denounced Kumagai’s crimes as “extremely flagrant,” saying the murder and other transgressions were motivated by selfishness and caused immeasurable pain to the families of the victims.
“As a matter of fact, his acts were scrutinized by the courts numerous times, and I myself repeatedly gave them serious considerations before signing the final order,” Tanigaki said.
Human rights groups immediately slammed the execution, saying it underscored a determined disregard for the global trend toward abolishing capital punishment.
Japan and the United States are the only two countries among the Group of Eight heavily industrialized nations that retain the system.Thursday’s execution came five months after a round of executions in April.
Kumagai was the sixth person to be hanged since Abe returned to power in December.
With his hanging, the number of inmates on death row fell to 132, four of whom were convicted and sentenced to death under the lay judge system.
Tanigaki refrained from elaborating on the timing of Kumagai’s hanging, only stressing that his decision was finalized after ensuring that the case “deserved no retrial at all” and that “there is absolutely no good reason to reverse the order of his execution.”
The justice minister said the administration has no intention of reviewing the death penalty as “there is no need to do so at the moment.”
The pace with which Tanigaki has signed off on executions was described by some critics as eerily reminiscent of Kunio Hatoyama, the LDP lawmaker who ran the Justice Ministry from 2007 to 2008. During his tenure, Hatoyama signed the execution order for 13 inmates, the most since 1993 when hangings were resumed after a hiatus of about 40 months.
Under the three-year rule of the Democratic Party of Japan starting in 2009, the pace of hangings was relatively sluggish, and none were carried out in 2011. A total of nine inmates were executed during the three-year period.
Amnesty International Japan issued a statement Thursday protesting Japan’s “step toward mass executions.”
Noting that Tokyo has won the right to host the 2020 Olympics, the group said Japan’s adherence to such a “dehumanizing custom” clearly belies the sporting festival’s long-held goal of “upholding the dignity of human beings and peaceful society.”
Amnesty added that public debate on capital punishment remains limited.
“We believe it’s unacceptable that only a limited number of bureaucrats are in charge of making such a life-and-death decision and run the system behind closed doors. The government should make more information public to ensure the basic right of ordinary citizens to know about it,” the group said.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations likewise criticized Thursday’s hanging as “unforgivable.”
It noted that Kumagai was first given life in prison before an appellate court overturned that sentence and gave him the death penalty, a fact the lawyers group said signaled conflicting opinions among judges.
The Committee against Torture, a human rights body from the United Nations, urged Japan in a report in May to give condemned inmates more advance notice of the date of their execution. Currently, inmates are informed of their impending hanging only a few hours in advance.
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