National | CABINET INTERVIEW

Matsushima stays course on death penalty but targets rape

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Newly appointed Justice Minister Midori Matsushima on Thursday backed the death penalty as a deterrent against crime and said she planned to stiffen the penalty for rape and bolster immigration staff.

Noting that the death penalty enjoys strong public support, the former Asahi Shimbun reporter turned politician said in a group media interview that scrapping capital punishment would be inappropriate in light of Japan’s recurring heinous crimes.

In a carefully phrased poll conducted every five years by the Cabinet Office, 85.6 percent of the respondents said in 2009 that capital punishment is “unavoidable if the circumstance demands it.”

“I know there are various critical opinions when it comes to the death penalty,” said Matsushima, dressed in her habitual color of red. “But I don’t think it deserves any immediate reform.”

On immigration and tourism, the 58-year-old Osaka native said the government needs to achieve a delicate balance between promoting more tourism and maintaining national safety.

“Non-problematic foreigners should be allowed to clear immigration as smoothly as possible” to boost Japan’s reputation as a hospitable country, she said.

“Meanwhile, rigorous immigration checks must be in place to maintain safety here,” she said, emphasizing that her ministry is set to hire 300 more immigration staff next year. Since Japan is trying to carve out a reputation as a tourism-driven nation, it makes sense to invest in more immigration personnel, she said.

Matsushima also seemed content with what is often criticized as the insular way in which immigration officials deal with asylum seekers. A mere six asylum seekers were granted refugee status in 2013, the least in 15 years, according to data released by the Justice Ministry in March.

“All we do is simply scrutinize each asylum seeker independently, and the number is just a result of that process,” Matsushima said. “It’s not like there is any numerical target we have to achieve.”

She also said that one of her most immediate goals is to stiffen penalties for sex offenders. Matsushima pointed out that minimum sentence for people convicted of rape resulting in death or injury is five years, while the minimum sentence for robbery resulting in injury is six years.

“I have always been infuriated that stealing is considered more grave than raping a woman and ruining her life,” she said.

Victims of rape are often but not always female.