Japan Hangs Three Killers As Pace of Executions Rises

Tsutomu Miyazaki, shown in 1989, was convicted of killing four girls.
Tsutomu Miyazaki, shown in 1989, was convicted of killing four girls. (Kyodo News Via Associated Press)
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By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 18, 2008

TOKYO, June 17 -- Japan hanged three convicted murderers on Tuesday, bringing the number of executions to 13 in the past six months and ramping up the pace of capital punishment to the highest level in more than three decades.

There is broad public support here for the death penalty, and one of those hanged on Tuesday was among the most reviled serial killers in Japan's recent history.

Tsutomu Miyazaki, 45, killed four young girls in the late 1980s and left the charred bones of one 4-year-old victim on her parents' doorstep. The Supreme Court, rejecting his final appeal, said he was motivated by a desire for sex and to make videos with his victims' corpses.

Still, Japan, host next month to a summit of the Group of Eight industrialized powers, is under mounting international pressure to halt executions.

The U.N. General Assembly, in a nonbinding resolution passed in December, called on all countries to impose a moratorium on executions as a step toward abolishing the death penalty. Human rights groups, the European Union and some Japanese legislators are also leaning on the Tokyo government to impose a moratorium.

Japan and the United States are the only G-8 members that carry out the death penalty. According to Amnesty International, 24 countries conducted executions last year.

On Tuesday, however, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda ruled out any change in policy. "The majority want it maintained," he told news agencies from the G-8 countries. "I feel there is no need to change it, but we must also keep an eye on world opinion."

In an effort to placate critics, Japan in December modified its practice of shrouding executions in secrecy. It now publicly releases the names and crimes of those hanged -- on the day they are executed. Previously, the information was leaked to newspapers.

The three hangings Tuesday followed 10 others since Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama took office.

Hatoyama announced in September that he might eliminate a rule requiring the justice minister's signature for every execution. That would allow the government to automatically execute death row inmates within six months after the end of their last appeal, according to Amnesty International. There now 102 people on death row.

In a statement Tuesday, Amnesty said the quickening pace of executions here is "proof that Japan is moving to routinely execute inmates in large numbers."

Hatoyama denied this and said, "I'm conducting executions solemnly." He added that he ordered Tuesday's executions because "the cases were of indescribable cruelty."

The hangings took place nine days after a young man with a knife killed seven people in a random attack in downtown Tokyo. Police said Tuesday that they had arrested four people who used the Internet to threaten similar attacks.

There is rising anxiety in Japan about violent crime, although the rate of random violent attacks has not increased significantly in the past decade.

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