Japan's justice minister resigns after death penalty quip

The minister has come under widespread criticism over comments reported in the media in which he made light of his duties, specifically signing off on executions

Elaine LiesKantaro KomiyaReuters
Published : 11 Nov 2022, 09:06 AM
Updated : 11 Nov 2022, 09:06 AM

Japan's justice minister resigned on Friday, becoming the second minister to leave the cabinet over a scandal in less than a month, as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida struggles to stem his sliding approval rating.

Kishida's support has slumped to the 30% level in many recent polls, close to a danger zone that would make it hard for him to promote his agenda.

The justice minister, Yasuhiro Hanashi, has come under widespread criticism over comments reported in the media in which he made light of his duties, specifically signing off on executions, which he referred to as "tedious".

"I tendered my resignation to the prime minister," Hanashi told reporters, referring to his comments about the death penalty.

Earlier, Hanashi, a member of Kishida's faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), was reported to have suggested there was little political advantage to his cabinet post and that he only made the news for "approving an execution in the morning".

Japan carries out capital punishment by hanging and does not inform prisoners until the morning of the day of their execution, a policy that rights groups have criticised for decades.

Hanashi apologised on Thursday for the comments and told parliament that he "took them back".

Hanashi is likely to be replaced by Ken Saito, a former agriculture minister, media said.

The outcry over his Hanashi's comments follows widespread public criticism of the government over ruling party links to the Unification Church, a group some critics call a cult.

Kishida has struggled to overcome revelations of deep and longstanding ties between the ruling party and the church in following the July assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The suspected killer has said his mother was bankrupted by the church and has blamed Abe for promoting it. The LDP has acknowledged many lawmakers have ties to the church but that there is no organisational link to the party.

Economic revitalisation minister Daishiro Yamagiwa resigned on Oct. 24 due to his ties to the religious group, but Kishida came under fire for what voters saw as his delayed and clumsy handling of the situation.

Further damage for Kishida has come from Internal Affairs Minister Minoru Terada, who has been embroiled in a political funds documentation scandal amid calls that he, too, resign.

A recent economic support plan has also failed to boost Kishida's ratings.

Kishida had been due to travel to Cambodia on Friday for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) but he put off his departure until Saturday, the foreign ministry said. It did not say why.