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International Relations

Vietnamese outraged as girl's killer in Japan escapes death

Social media flooded with anger after court verdict allows possibility of parole

The father of Le Thi Nhat Linh speaks during a news conference in Chiba Prefecture on July 6 after the sentencing of her murderer.   © Kyodo

HANOI -- News that the killer of a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl murdered in Japan escaped the death sentence drew harsh criticism in Vietnam, with many people taking to social media to vent their frustration.

The March 2017 murder of Le Thi Nhat Linh in Matsudo, a city east of Tokyo, was widely reported in Vietnam. Friday's sentencing of Yasumasa Shibuya, 47, by the Chiba District Court to life in prison seemed far too lenient to many, given the shocking nature of the sexual assault and murder of the elementary school student. As the former head of the parents association of Linh's school, Shibuya had been in a position to protect children.

Following the sentence, many comments on social media in Vietnam questioned Japan's legal system and expressed disillusion in the country.

Speaking to Nikkei via an online chat forum on Monday, Linh's mother, Nguyen Thi Nguyen, said she was "extremely frustrated" with the sentence, and the thought of Shibuya living out his life was "unbearable." She said she worried he may eventually be released and commit a similar crime, as life sentences in Japan leave room for a parole.

About a million people signed a petition by Nguyen calling for the death penalty. She now plans to broaden the petition through online channels to have people outside Vietnam and Japan sign it.

Nearly 5,000 Vietnamese have commented on her Facebook page. One person said the court verdict made little sense. Another said the sentence undermined respect for Japan and its people. The social media site has 58 million users in Vietnam.

Sentiment was hardened toward Shibuya, given his role as former head of the parents association with responsibility to protect children. People had also expected the maximum penalty, as Vietnamese courts often hand down death sentences for murders of victims age 16 or under.

By contrast, Japanese courts rarely give the death sentence for murders of a single person. Yet prosecutors had sought it in this case in light of the killer's past role with the parents association.

The possibility of parole seemed to add to the frustration. On Friday, in a tone that reflected the public's frustration, a news program on state-run Vietnam Television reported that Shibuya may be released in as little as 15 years.

Linh's parents twice tried to organize a demonstration in Japan calling for the death sentence. The police denied approval both times.

"We're going to do everything we can, protests, petitions, whatever," Nguyen said. "We're not going to give up until we can make a difference."

Nguyen said it was consoling to have the support of Japanese and Vietnamese friends who paid visits to the couple's home. But she would never be able to accept the court's verdict. She said she often sits at the desk her daughter used to study to remember her.

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