A 44-year-old convicted murderer was executed by hanging on Thursday after six years on death row, the first execution authorized by Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa since she acceded to the post last October.
The last time Japan put an inmate to death was in August 2014, and Thursday’s execution left a total of 130 inmates on death row, the Justice Ministry said.
The executed convict was Tsukasa Kanda. In August 2007, he and two other men abducted a 31-year-old woman in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, and murdered her.
“His crime was selfish and extremely brutal,” Kamikawa said, reading a carefully worded script at a hastily convened news conference at the ministry following the execution.
“As a matter of fact, I gave his case deep consideration before greenlighting his execution,” she said.
The ministry says Kanda kidnapped his victim from a Nagoya street with the intention of mugging her. After confining her in his vehicle, he robbed her of a cash card and “coiled layers of adhesive tape around her head” before bludgeoning and fatally strangling her.
He then drove her body to neighboring Gifu Prefecture and dumped it in a forest to conceal his crime, the Justice Ministry said.
In March 2009, Kanda was sentenced by the Nagoya District Court to hang. The ruling was finalized a month later when he dropped an appeal. Both of his accomplices have been sentenced to life in prison, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Japan and the United States are the only members of the Group of Seven industrialized countries that carry out executions.
Although Kamikawa characterized capital punishment as an “extremely grave” penalty, she nonetheless defended Thursday’s execution on the grounds that Japan, as a nation governed by law, has the responsibility of complying with a judgment handed down by the judiciary.
She refrained from clarifying her personal stance on the death penalty, saying she did not wish to make comments that might disquiet current death-row inmates.
Human rights advocacy group Amnesty International slammed the decision to execute Kanda. In a statement released Thursday, it alleged the government purposely executed him at a time when public attention is focused on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s contentious bills to expand Japan’s military role.
“With the country looking the other way, Japan’s authorities decided it was politically convenient to resume executions. To take a man’s life in this way is the politics of the gutter,” Hiroka Shoji, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International, was quoted as saying.
A poll released by the Cabinet Office in January found 80.3 percent of people in Japan approve of the death penalty. The question asked whether they thought the death penalty was “unavoidable.”
Of those who support the system, 53.4 percent said it is necessary to bring a sense of closure to victims’ relatives.
But the high approval rate, the Japan chapter of Amnesty said in a separate statement, does not allow the government to skirt its duty to initiate a nationwide debate on the issue.
The Japan chapter recalled that Kamikawa, in a Lower House committee speech in March, expressed her ministry’s commitment to respecting human rights and pledged to adjust to changing needs and expectations. This execution, the group said, belies such vows.