Japan executed three men on Dec. 21, including a 65-year-old convict, in what’s believed to be the first executions carried out under the rule of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office in October.
The executions were also deemed to be the first to take place in Japan since 2019.
The first convict, Yasutaka Fujishiro, 65, was hanged for killing his 80-year-old aunt, two cousins, and four other relatives in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, in 2004. Fujishiro was sentenced to death in May 2009 by the Kobe District Court and made an appeal to the Supreme Court in 2015, which was rejected.
The two other convicts, Tomoaki Takanezawa, 54, and Mitsunori Onogawa, 44, were executed for killing two employees at two separate pachinko parlors in Gunma Prefecture in 2003. The Supreme Court finalized the death penalty for Takanezawa in July 2005 and for Onogawa in June 2009.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara defended the country’s policy regarding capital punishment, citing the occurrences of “heinous crimes” in current times.
“Many Japanese think the death penalty is unavoidable in the case of extremely malicious crime,” Kihara told reporters after the executions, Kyodo News reported.
Capital punishment in Japan is conducted by hanging. The practice of not informing inmates of the timing of their executions until shortly before the sentence is carried out has long been decried by international human rights organizations for the stress it places on prisoners, for whom any day could be their last.
In early November, two unnamed death row inmates filed a lawsuit against Japan over how prisoners are notified only hours before the death penalty is carried out.
The lawsuit was filed in a district court in the western city of Osaka, Japan. The filing states that such practice was illegal, as prisoners wouldn’t be able to file an objection. They also demanded that the practice be amended and asked for 22 million yen ($193,594) in compensation, attorney Yutaka Ueda said.
Ueda contended that there’s no law mandating that prisoners be informed of their execution only hours before it occurs, noting that the practice violates Japan’s criminal code.
“The central government has said this is meant to keep prisoners from suffering before their execution, but that’s no explanation and a big problem, and we really need to see how they respond to the suit,” Ueda said. “Overseas, prisoners are given time to contemplate the end of their lives and mentally prepare. It’s as if Japan is trying as hard as possible not to let anybody know.”
Reuters contributed to this report.