Japan hangs two convicted murderers

Japan hanged two convicted killers today, including a man who strangled two schoolgirls with his bare hands, pushing executions in the country to the highest level in three decades.

The executions of Michitoshi Kuma, 70, and Masahiro Takashio, 55, brought the number of hangings so far this year to 15, the most since 17 were executed in 1975. There were nine executions last year.

Japan has sharply increased the pace of hangings in recent years amid criticism that the criminal justice system functions too slowly and that inmates can be left to languish on death row for decades.

The government said the executions were justified.

Kuma kidnapped two seven-year-old girls on their way to school in southern Japan in February 1992 and strangled them, dumping their bodies in the mountains. Takashio was convicted of breaking into a house in northern Japan in March 2004 and stabbing a 55-year-old woman and her 83-year-old mother to death before stealing 50,000 yen, or about €400.

“Both crimes stemmed from cruel motives and took the precious lives of victims,” Justice Minister Eisuke Mori told reporters. “The crimes caused grave sorrow to the families of the victims.”

The hangings followed three executions in mid-September.

The rise in executions has triggered strong protests from advocacy groups such as Amnesty International. Still, the anti-capital punishment lobby inside Japan is small.

Japan has also come under fire for the secrecy surrounding its criminal justice system.

Inmates do not know when they will be executed until the morning of their hanging. Executions are conducted in secret, and lawyers and family are only notified after the fact.

The post-war high for executions was 39, in 1957 and 1960. The number fell throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and there were no executions from 1990 until 1993.

There are about 100 people on death row.


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