TOKYO, Jan 29 – Japan on Thursday hanged four convicted murderers, officials said, carrying out the country’s first executions of the year despite international criticism.,
Japan is the only major industrial nation other than the United States to apply the death penalty. It last carried out executions in October when it hanged two inmates.
In a sign of Japan’s commitment to the death penalty, three of the inmates were executed within three years of finalisation of their sentences. Japan often waits 10 year or more before hanging death-row inmates.
"These are heinous cases which destroyed precious human lives," Justice Minister Eisuke Mori told reporters.
"I ordered the executions after cautious examination," he said.
The executed inmates included Yukinari Kawamura, 44, and his accomplice Tetsuya Sato, 39, who were convicted of killing two women and then burning and cutting up their bodies.
Japan also executed Shojiro Nishimoto, 32, who was convicted of killing four people during repeated burglaries, the justice ministry said.
The other hanged inmate was Tadashi Makino, 58, who killed a woman and injured three other women during a burglary after he was released on parole on a life sentence in another murder-robbery case, it said.
Authorities hanged the four prisoners in Tokyo, Nagoya and Fukuoka. With the executions, another 95 people remain on death row in Japan.
The death penalty is overwhelmingly supported by the public in Japan, which has one of the world’s lowest crime rates.
Conservative governments have stepped up the pace of executions. Last year Japan hanged 15 death-row inmates, the highest since 1975 when the country executed 17 people.
But Japan has regularly come under fire from the European Union and international human rights groups over its use of the death penalty.
Amnesty International plans to issue a protest to the Japanese government after reviewing the latest executions, a member of the London-based rights group’s Tokyo chapter said.
Rights groups also criticise the way that Japan executes inmates.
Prison authorities give inmates only short notice that they are headed to the gallows in a bid to ward off last-minute appeals.
The executions come as Japan is set to introduce a jury system in May to criminal courts.
In a survey published Wednesday, 63 percent of voters said they did not want juries to decide death sentences while 28 percent said they supported the system.
If chosen for jury duty, 49 percent said they would participate and 46 percent said they hoped to avoid the obligation, according to the poll by the Mainichi Shimbun daily.