Forgetting his weighty responsibility, Hanashi made a joke that went too far

The death penalty is the ultimate punishment. He probably did not fully appreciate the weight of a role that involves ordering executions. His joke went too far.

Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi has resigned to take responsibility for his remarks.

“It’s an unspectacular job that only makes the top news at noon if I stamp a seal on a document for the death penalty in the morning,” Hanashi said of his duties as justice minister at a party hosted by a state minister for foreign affairs who belongs to the same Liberal Democratic Party faction as Hanashi, the one led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Hanashi may have been trying to get a laugh and attention when talking about his job, but it was ill-advised considering the weight of signing an execution warrant, which leads to the loss of a human life.

Sadakazu Tanigaki, who ordered 11 executions during his tenure as justice minister, is said to have kept in mind that he would only sign execution documents after he had read court documents and convinced himself that the executions were right. When signing the execution order, he held prayer beads and put his hands together in prayer.

In the past, some justice ministers have refused to sign the orders because of emotional agony. The pressure on justice ministers is immeasurable.

An increasing number of countries around the world are abolishing the death penalty. Japan, the United States and South Korea are the only countries that maintain the death penalty among the 38 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Japan maintains the death penalty to give consideration to the heinous nature of some crimes and the grief and anger of the victims. Japan is in a position where the system must be strictly enforced, but Hanashi’s remarks show no consideration for such a position.

While appealing for support for the state minister for foreign affairs, Hanashi also said at the party, “The Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry are basically far from votes and money.”

Recently, many politicians have only been concerned with which posts are most prominent and whether they can attract funds and votes. They appear to have no awareness of the important responsibilities they bear in national politics. Hanashi’s remarks seem to symbolize this “deterioration of politics.”

It is clear that the prime minister’s response to this matter was slow. On Thursday, when Hanashi’s remarks were reported, Kishida indicated that he would allow Hanashi to continue in office, but on Friday the prime minister changed his mind. It is likely that the prime minister judged that he could not fend off the opposition parties’ attempts to press him on the issue.

The prime minister was scheduled to leave Japan on Friday afternoon for a trip to Southeast Asia, but he delayed his departure. Kishida must avoid a situation in which political turmoil affects diplomacy.

The Kishida administration just last month saw the resignation of Daishiro Yamagiwa as the minister in charge of economic revitalization, after he repeatedly gave ambiguous answers regarding his relationship with the Unification Church (formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification).

The prime minister needs to take seriously his responsibility regarding his appointments. It is essential to eliminate the slack within the administration and rebuild it.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 12, 2022)