Japan Announces Death Penalty Review after Hanging Two Men

Article excerpt

Japan angered abolitionists by executing two men this week, in the first hangings since the country's center-left government took office in September. Tokyo's new government says it still has plans to review its use of the death penalty.

Japan's government says it has plans to review its use of the death penalty after it angered abolitionists by executing two men this week, in the first hangings since the country's center-left government took office in September.

Justice Minister Keiko Chiba took the unprecedented step of attending the executions of Kazuo Shinozawa and Hidenori Ogata at the Tokyo Detention Center on Wednesday.

Shinozawa burned six women to death after setting a jewelry store alight in 2000; Ogata strangled a woman and fatally stabbed a man in 2003.

Minister Chiba, a longtime opponent of capital punishment, had raised hopes that Japan was moving towards a de facto moratorium on hangings after her appointment last year.

"It is not that I changed my mind," said Ms. Chiba, who was a member of a parliamentarians' group opposed to the death penalty until she became justice minister. "I attended the executions as I believe it is my duty to see them through.

"Witnessing [them] with my own eyes made me think deeply about the death penalty, and I once again strongly felt that there is a need for a fundamental discussion."

Human rights groups condemned the executions, which came a year to the day after the last round of hangings.

"Japan continues to go against the international trend toward abolition and mete out this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment," said Donna Guest, deputy director of Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific program. "A day that should have marked one year without executions has instead seen Japan return to carrying out state-sponsored killings."

Japan has resisted pressure from the European Union, which calls for the universal abolition of capital punishment.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she "deeply regretted" the executions.

Japan and the US are the only members of the G8 to retain the death penalty, while, according to Amnesty, 139 countries - about two-thirds of the world's total - have either abolished or stopped using the punishment. …

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