After 2-Year Hiatus, Japan Resumes 'Abhorrent' Practice

3 death-row inmates executed amid continued controversy over how death penalty is carried out
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 21, 2021 7:38 AM CST
After 2-Year Hiatus, Japan Resumes 'Abhorrent' Practice
Exterior of Tokyo's Ministry of Justice.   (Getty Images/y-studio)

For two years, Japan hasn't carried out any executions. That changed Tuesday with the hanging of three death-row inmates, reviving outcry from human rights activists on the controversial way in which the country carries out capital punishment. At a presser, Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa cited the "extremely brutal" cases that prompted Tuesday's executions, per CNN, including that of 65-year-old Yasutaka Fujishiro, who murdered seven relatives and neighbors in Hyogo prefecture in 2004.

The other two men executed, 54-year-old Tomoaki Takanezawa and 44-year-old Mitsunori Onogawa, slaughtered two workers at pachinko parlors in Gunma prefecture in 2003. They're the first executions under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office in October. The last time Japan saw an inmate put to death was Dec. 26, 2019; in 2018, more than a dozen members of a doomsday cult that set up a deadly sarin gas attack on a Tokyo subway were executed, per the Guardian. Japan's capital punishment consists of hangings only, and prisoners typically learn of their final long walk just hours before it happens.

The Japan Times notes that more notice did appear to be given decades ago, but that courtesy apparently stopped around 1975. Amnesty International, meanwhile, says inmates' families aren't even given word until after the deed is done. It's a process that causes psychological distress, say two current inmates who are now suing the government, asking for nearly $200,000 for the stress they're enduring by not knowing when their execution is scheduled for.

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Only two industrialized nations—Japan and the United States—still have the death penalty. An Amnesty International rep calls the resumption of Japan's executions "abhorrent" and "a damning indictment of this government's lack of respect for the right to life," per CNN. But Japanese government officials say the public largely supports the death penalty, and that it's a necessity as long as violent crimes continue. "Considering that these crimes are still going on, I don't believe it is appropriate to abolish" capital punishment, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara said at a news conference. (More Japan stories.)

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