Japan hangs inmate, 3rd round of executions under Abe gov't

Japan hanged one death row inmate Thursday in the third round of executions since the launch last December of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, the Justice Ministry said.

Tokuhisa Kumagai, 73, had been sentenced to death for shooting and killing 77-year-old Chinese restaurant owner Fumio Shimizu with a handgun and stealing a bag containing 430,000 yen in cash in Yokohama in May 2004.

Kumagai also shot and seriously injured a subway station worker in a failed robbery attempt at Tokyo's Shibuya station two months later.

"What he did was brutal," Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki said at a press conference after the execution. "He deprived the victim of his precious life for selfish reasons."

The latest execution followed a round in April when two men who conspired to shoot two rival gang leaders were hanged and another round in February when three men, including Kaoru Kobayashi, were hanged. Kobayashi kidnapped and killed a 7-year-old elementary school girl in the western Japan prefecture of Nara.

Last year, seven people were executed under the former administration of the Democratic Party of Japan.

Japan had 137 inmates with finalized death sentences at the end of last year, the largest number since 1949, when the government began compiling statistics of this kind, according to the Justice Ministry.

In April, Tanigaki said many citizens believe capital punishment is needed in Japan, although Japan is one of only a few developed countries still to have the death penalty. Inmates are not notified of their execution date beforehand.

"The Abe administration has taken the lives of six people since its launch, and Japan is bucking the world trend to abolish capital punishment," Amnesty International Japan said Thursday in a statement.

The human rights group added that the government has not given any reasons why it chose Kumagai and has not explained how it sets each execution date.