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Three death row inmates hanged in Japan in first executions since 2019

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks before a news conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on Dec. 21, 2021. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/POOL/AFP/Getty Images)

Three death row inmates were executed by hanging Tuesday in Japan, marking the first executions since 2019 and the first under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

The inmates executed were Yasutaka Fujishiro, 65, convicted of murdering seven of his relatives and neighbors in 2004, and Tomoaki Takanezawa, 54, and Mitsunori Onogawa, 44, who were convicted of killing two employees of a Pachinko arcade parlor in 2003.

Japan is one of the few developed nations that still carries the death penalty. The country has resisted calls to abolish executions, which take place by hanging. Executions are surrounded by secrecy: Prisoners are usually notified they will be hanged with little notice, and family members learn of the execution once it has already happened.

“The recent appointment of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was a chance for progress on human rights in Japan. But today’s abhorrent resumption of executions is a damning indictment of this government’s lack of respect for the right to life,” Chiara Sangiorgio, death penalty adviser at Amnesty International, said in a statement. Kishida took over as Japan’s prime minister in early October.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara told reporters after the executions that it is “not appropriate to abolish [Japan’s death penalty system] considering the current situation in which heinous crimes continue to occur,” according to the Japan Times newspaper. “Many Japanese think the death penalty is unavoidable in the case of extremely malicious crimes,” he said.

Currently, 107 inmates await execution, according to the Japan Times. The last time the country executed a death-row inmate was in 2019, when it hanged a 40-year-old Chinese national who was convicted of murdering a family of four in 2003.

In a visit to Japan in 2019, Pope Francis drew attention to the death penalty,calling it inhumane. During his historic four-day visit, he met with Iwao Hakamada, considered to be the longest-serving death row inmate in the world.

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