National / Crime & Legal

Japanese justice minister’s 16 execution orders the most since end of death penalty moratorium in 1993

Kyodo

With the hangings of six former members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult Thursday, Yoko Kamikawa became the justice minister who has ordered the most executions, 16, since Japan lifted its 40-month moratorium on the death penalty in 1993.

Thirteen of the 16 executed individuals were former members of the doomsday cult. Aum founder Shoko Asahara, who masterminded the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system and other heinous crimes, and six others were hanged earlier this month.

Kamikawa ordered one execution during her yearlong stint as justice minister from October 2014. Since resuming the position in August last year, she has ordered two executions in December and 13 this month. All of the orders were under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Japan implemented a moratorium on the death penalty between November 1989 and March 1993 due to increasing international pressure to abolish capital punishment. Justice Minister Masaharu Gotoda, during the administration of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, lifted the moratorium and executions have taken place roughly every six months to a year since then.

Justice Minister Seiken Sugiura, a lawyer-turned-politician, did not greenlight any executions during his 11 months in office between October 2005 and September 2006 under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, citing his Buddhist beliefs.

His successor, Jinen Nagase, took the opposite approach and ordered executions for 10 death row inmates before he stepped down in August 2007. Nagase’s successor Kunio Hatoyama further accelerated the pace of executions by carrying them out roughly every two months, sending 13 inmates to the gallows by the time he left office in August 2008. The Asahi Shimbun daily dubbed him the Grim Reaper.

When the Democratic Party of Japan came to power after defeating the Liberal Democratic Party in a 2009 general election, the pace of executions slowed. Nine death row inmates were hanged by justice ministers of DPJ administrations up until the LDP retook power in 2012.

Keiko Chiba, the first justice minister under the DPJ administration and a lawyer who belonged to an anti-death penalty parliamentarian group before assuming the post, initially took a cautious stance on executions, but eventually ordered hangings of two inmates in July 2010. In an unusual move, she witnessed the executions and allowed members of the media to visit the execution chamber at the Tokyo Detention House the following month in a bid to stir public debate over the death penalty.

After the LDP came back to power in December 2012, justice ministers ordered executions periodically, with Sadakazu Tanigaki sending 11 inmates to the gallows, Mitsuhide Iwaki four and Katsutoshi Kaneda three.