Japan hanged two convicted killers on Wednesday, including a man who burned six women to death, in the country’s first executions in a year, and the justice minister said she wants renewed debate on whether to continue the punishment.
The justice ministry said Kazuo Shinozawa, 59, and Hidenori Ogata, 33, were hanged at the Tokyo Detention Centre. Shinozawa set fire to a jewellery shop in 2000, burning six women to death. Ogata strangled a woman and stabbed a man to death in 2003.
Japan, along with the United States, is one of the few industrialized countries that still has capital punishment. There is little public outcry against the death penalty in Japan, but the country has been criticized by rights groups such as Amnesty International and the main Japanese bar association.
Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, formerly a member of a group of lawmakers opposed to the death penalty, witnessed the executions and said afterwards she wanted a new study group to spur debate on the punishment, including whether it should be abolished in Japan.
“Witnessing the executions with my own eyes made me think deeply about the death penalty,” Ms. Chiba told a news conference.
Ms. Chiba left the anti—execution group to take the top ministry job under the government of the Democratic Party of Japan, which swept to power in September. She has continued to express reservations about the practice.
Japan’s media are not allowed to cover executions. But following Wednesday’s executions, Ms. Chiba said that should change.
Amnesty International condemned the double executions, accusing Japan’s government of “playing with human lives.”
“It is contradictory to execute someone while proposing public debate on it,” Amnesty said in a statement. “We are alarmed that such debate only justifies the death penalty while the government continues to carry out executions.”
Criminals can be left on death row for years in Japan, and executions, all carried out by hanging, are highly secretive. Inmates do not know when they will be executed, while lawyers and family are only told after the fact.
Japan has 107 death row inmates, the ministry said.