Human rights campaigners have condemned Japan’s use of the death penalty after two inmates were hanged, bringing the number of executions to 16 since the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, took office in late 2012.
The executions were carried out on Friday, just weeks before Japan is to host the G7 leaders summit: Japan and the US are the only two G7 nations that retain the death penalty, while European countries are among the most vocal critics of Japan’s secretive executions.
Yasutoshi Kamata, 75, was hanged in Osaka for the murders of five people – including a nine-year-old girl – between 1985 and 1994, according to Japanese media.
Junko Yoshida was convicted of killing two men in the late 1990s to obtain life insurance payments. The 56-year-old, who was executed in Fukuoka, is the first woman to be hanged in Japan since 2012.
Campaigners accused Japan of resisting the global trend towards the abolition of the death penalty in the mistaken belief that the punishment acts as a deterrent.
“Despite the fact that about 140 countries in the world have already abandoned or have stopped executions for more than a decade, the Japanese government is turning its back on the trend,” said Hideki Wakabayashi, secretary general of Amnesty International Japan.
Opinion polls in Japan show high levels of public support for the death penalty, although campaigners say the surveys are worded in such a way as to play on the public’s fear of crime.
In a 2010 poll, 86% of respondents said the use of the death penalty was “unavoidable” – a sentiment that strengthened after a doomsday cult carried out a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, killing 13 people and injuring thousands more.
Friday’s executions mean the number of inmates facing the death sentence in Japan now stands at 124.
The hangings also highlighted the long periods – on average more than five years between 2005 and 2014 – that inmates are forced to wait to be executed. Kamata’s sentence was finalised 11 years ago, and Yoshida’s almost six years ago, according to Japanese media.
Death row inmates are typically given only a few hours’ notice of their execution, with relatives and lawyers informed only after it has been carried out.
In a damning 2009 report, Amnesty claimed Japan’s death row inmates were being driven insane and exposed to “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment.
The potential for wrongful convictions was highlighted in 2014 with the release of Iwao Hakamada, who had spent more than 45 years on death row, amid suggestions that investigators had fabricated evidence against him.
Hakamada had been sentenced to hang in 1968 for the murders two years earlier of a company president, his wife and their two children. – The Guardian, 26/3/2016