Japan’s Minister of Justice resigned this Friday (11), after receiving criticism for an ironic speech regarding the death penalty in the country. The shutdown, the second by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s cabinet in less than a month, adds to the political crisis surrounding the government.
Yasuhiro Hanashi said on Wednesday that his position has few political advantages and that he is only sought after by the press when he “approves of an execution in the morning”. The minister also called the sentences, confirmed by him, tedious.
Japanese law allows the death penalty only in cases of murder, and criminals are killed by hanging. In such cases, prisoners are not informed of their sentence until the morning of the day of their execution.
The comments, of course, were not well received publicly. Hanashi tried to contain the criticism in Parliament, where he apologized for the statement. The effort was in vain, and on Friday, he told reporters he had “made citizens and ministry officials uncomfortable” and would therefore file his resignation.
The now former justice minister is a member of Kishida’s closest group within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and his departure adds to the wear and tear of the prime minister, who has seen his popularity drop to 30% in recent weeks.
Earlier on Friday, the prime minister said he “felt a great responsibility” for having nominated Hanashi to the post and confirmed he would accept the resignation. Now, former Agriculture Minister Ken Saito will be responsible for heading the portfolio.
Although the exchange was quickly articulated, the government felt the political pressure of the episode, and Kishida had to postpone a trip he would make this Friday to Cambodia, where he would meet with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. On Sunday (13), the premier is due to meet with US President Joe Biden, and later with China’s leader, Xi Jinping.
The outcry over Hanashi’s comments follows widespread criticism of the government over his party’s ties to the Unification Church, considered a sect by the Japanese population. The institution, incidentally, is at the heart of the death of former premier Shinzo Abe in July – the killer claims his mother went bankrupt after donating large amounts of money to the church.
Since then, the LDP has tried to prove that the church has no ties to the party, even though several of its members attend the institution’s services.
The party’s ties to the church also led to the resignation of former Minister of Economic Revitalization, Daishiro Yamagiwa. He asked to leave the government on the 24th, after pressure from oppositionists, who accused him of lying about his religious ties.
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