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Japan executes 4 convicted murderers amid concerns about justice system
By CHISAKI WATANABE
Associated Press
2008-04-10 01:14 PM
Japan executed four convicted murderers Thursday in a marked acceleration of hangings amid rising international concern about the fairness of the country's secretive justice system.

Thursday's round of executions was the third since December, when the Justice Ministry started disclosing for the first time the identities of those hanged and details of their crimes.

Japan has executed 10 criminals in the past six months under Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama, an outspoken supporter of the death penalty. That number contrasts with past years: in 2005, for instance, Japan executed one inmate all year.

Hatoyama, who took office last August, denied his ministry was purposely picking up the pace of hangings. Three men were executed in December, and three more in February.

"I don't take into account of interval at all. I just carry out executions solemnly as justice minister in response to what the law requires," Hatoyama told reporters.

Human rights activists have long attacked Japan's criminal justice system. Critics say it relies too heavily on confessions extracted in lengthy _ and allegedly abusive _ interrogation sessions.

The death penalty system has also faced criticism. The condemned can wait many years for execution, and hangmen come to their cells to take them to the gallows without advance. Families are called after the fact to collect the body.

The criticism of the secrecy surrounding Japanese law enforcement led to the ministry decision to announce the names of the executed and details of their crimes for the first time late last year.

Before that the ministry would simply announce the number of people executed after the sentences were carried out, without giving details. Prior to 1998, the government would only announce the total number of executions at the end of the year.

While still low, the number of executions in Japan has increased sharply in recent years. In 2006, four people were executed and nine were hung last year. So far this year, seven have been executed _ far ahead of last year's pace.

Japan does not have a jury system and judges are also more willing to hand down death sentences. In 2003, for instance, only two death sentences were finalized. In 2007 the number rose to 23.

"There have been strong pressure from the Amnesty International and others and there is a U.N. resolution" calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, said Kazuko Ito, lawyer and secretary-general of the Japan branch of Human Rights Now. "But the executions were carried out without any consideration to any of them," she said.

In December, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to abolishing all executions.

The men executed Thursday were all convicted murderers.

Katsuyoshi Nakamoto, 64, killed a jeweler couple in 1982.

Masaharu Nakamura, 61, killed one victim with an overdose of sleeping pills and dismembered the body, and strangled a work colleague.

Masahito Sakamoto, 41, was executed for killing and raping a high school girl after he took her captive in 2002.

Kaoru Akinaga, 61, killed two people in 1989.

Japan had 107 inmates on death row as of March 31, according to the ministry. Despite international criticism of Japan's death penalty, there is little opposition to the policy domestically.

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