Execution of death-row inmates must serve as deterrent to crime
Three death-row inmates were executed Thursday. They were the first executions carried out under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration, which was launched in December.
Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, who ordered the executions just two months after he was appointed to his post, told a press conference after the executions, "The spirit of the law shouldn't be disregarded." His statement shows he attaches grave importance to the Criminal Procedure Code, which stipulates that death sentences should be implemented within six months of being finalized.
The statement also indicates his stance to carry out in a somber manner the duties of the justice minister, who bears a heavy responsibility.
134 people now on death row
Under the Democratic Party of Japan-led administrations, few executions were carried out. There was even a period of about 20 months in which there were no executions, due to the successive appointments of justice ministers who were critical of the death penalty. As a result, the number of inmates whose death sentences had been finalized increased to 137, including the three most recently executed, the largest figure in the postwar period.
Internationally, countries that have abolished or suspended capital punishment outnumber those who maintain the system.
In Japan, on the other hand, 85 percent of the public approves of the death penalty, according to an opinion poll by the Cabinet Office.
"At the moment it's unnecessary to review the system," Tanigaki said, taking into consideration this public sentiment.
Death sentences have been given in lay judge trials, in which ordinary citizens participate in the trial process, and the sentences for three inmates under that system have been already finalized.
Considering these circumstances, we urge justice ministers to implement the death penalty system in a strict manner, after closely examining finalized death sentences.
The three inmates whose sentences were carried out most recently include a man who kidnapped and killed a young girl in Nara Prefecture in 2004, and a man who killed or injured nine people near JR Arakawaoki Station on the Joban Line and at another location, both in Ibaraki Prefecture, in 2008.
All three cases were contemptible, cruel crimes that horrified society. The victims and their bereaved family members suffered grievous harm. The bereaved families want the culprits to be harshly punished.
In the case of kidnapping and murder in Nara Prefecture, the perpetrator abducted a first-grade primary school student who was on her way home from school in order to sexually molest her. He even sent an e-mail with a picture of the girl's dead body to her mother's cellphone. The case was extremely malicious.
Prevention of repeat offenses
This is the case that clarified the trend toward toughening the penalties in murder cases so that people who commit atrocious sexual crimes will face capital punishment even if they have only killed one person.
The Nara Prefecture case spurred the government to study measures to prevent the recurrence of sexual offenses, as the perpetrator had a criminal record of sex offenses.
The Justice Ministry now provides the National Police Agency with information on where people with criminal records of sexual offenses involving children live after their release from prison. Sex offenders in prison are required to attend programs to prevent repeat offenses, in which they are taught ways to control their emotions.
However, there is no sign of a significant decline in the number of sex offenses. We should think again about the fact that one purpose of implementing death sentences is to deter atrocious crimes.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 22, 2013)