TOKYO, October 28 – Japan on Tuesday hanged two more death-row inmates as the country steps up executions to a pace unseen in three decades, despite an ongoing UN review of its rights record.,
The country, which has one of the world’s lowest crime rates, is the only major industrial nation other than the United States to use the death penalty. Its use is widely supported among the Japanese public.
Tuesday’s executions were the first since conservative Prime Minister Taro Aso took office last month.
"The executions were carried out after we repeatedly gave full, cautious and appropriate consideration," Justice Minister Eisuke Mori told reporters.
"In both of these cases, the perpetrators took noble lives due to hideous motivations," he said. "Victims and their family members must have had extremely poignant regret."
Tuesday’s hangings brought to 15 the number of people executed this year, the highest total since 1975 when Japanese authorities hanged 17 people.
The executed inmates were Michitoshi Kuma, 70, and Masahiro Takashio, 55, the justice ministry said.
Kuma was convicted of kidnapping and killing two girls, both seven, in 1992 in western Fukuoka prefecture.
Takashio stabbed an elderly woman and her daughter to death in northern Fukushima prefecture in 2004 to get money.
Mori denied that Japan was trying to speed up the pace of executions.
"I did not take the timing or space (in between executions) into account at all," he said.
Japan has faced criticism from the European Union and international human rights groups over its use of the death penalty.
Amnesty International noted that the executions came just as the UN Commission on Human Rights prepared to release its first review of Japan in 10 years.
In the last review in 1998, the UN commission advised Japan to take steps to abolish capital punishment. The Geneva-based UN body is expected to release its latest findings as soon as this week.
"This is extremely problematic that the Japanese government has made clear it is not even trying to listen to what the Human Rights Commission has to say," said Makoto Teranaka, secretary general of the Japan chapter of Amnesty International.
"Japan is completely turning its back to the world," he said.
Japan informs inmates of their impending executions only shortly before taking them to the gallows, as part of its effort to ward off last-minute appeals.
Following the latest executions, Japan has 101 inmates on death row.
Under Japanese law, the justice minister must sign off on every execution. At the time of his appointment as justice minister, Mori said he would "solemnly carry out" his duties on the death penalty.
Japan had a de facto moratorium on executions for 15 months until 2006 because the then justice minister, Seiken Sugiura, said the death penalty went against his Buddhist beliefs.
Aso, who took office on September 24, is a member of Japan’s small Roman Catholic community. The Roman Catholic Church opposes capital punishment.