Japan: Number of death-row inmates hits record high of 111
There will be 111 death-row inmates in the nation as of the end of the year, a record high since the end of World War II, according to the Justice Ministry.
The figure includes nine inmates whose death sentences were confirmed this year, while the number of those who were executed in 2010 stood at two. It is the first time that the number of death-row inmates at the end of the year will top 110, while the previous high was 107 at the end of 2007.
While three defendants were given the death penalty during lay judge trials this year, all of them have appealed their sentences, leaving the final decision up to higher courts.
This year alone, there were a total of 14 defendants who were sentenced to death at district and high courts across the country as well as at the Supreme Court, according to statistics compiled by the top court and the Mainichi Shimbun. Among those whose death sentences were confirmed this year, seven defendants were handed down death penalties at the Supreme Court, while two defendants had been sentenced in December 2009.
According to the Justice Ministry, there were 106 death-row inmates at the end of 2009. This year, two death-row inmates were executed and two others died of illness, bringing the number of death-row inmates alive at the end of the year to 111.
Although former Justice Minister Keiko Chiba was cautious about carrying out capital punishment, she ended up ordering the execution of two death-row inmates on July 28 -- the only time she ordered the ultimate punishment before her term ended in September.
Since then, succeeding justice ministers apparently haven't had the chance to consider whether to carry out executions, following such scandals as evidence tampering by a public prosecutor and a gaffe by former Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida, which led to his resignation.
Among those whose death sentences were confirmed this year are: Masahiro Kanagawa, 27, convicted over a deadly stabbing rampage in Tsuchiura, Ibaraki Prefecture; Yoshihiro Inoue, 40, and Tomomitsu Niimi, 46, both convicted over their involvement in deadly incidents triggered by the AUM Shinrikyo religious cult; and Junko Yoshida, 51, convicted over serial insurance murder cases in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture. Takeshi Koizumi, 48, was convicted of attacking former administrative health vice ministers, but has appealed his death sentence handed down by the Saitama District Court.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court sent the case involving Takemitsu Mori, 53, who was sentenced to death by a high court over a murder case, back to a district court in April after ruling that there is a possibility of the defendant's innocence -- an unprecedented move by the top court.
In August, the Justice Ministry for the first time unveiled the execution venue at the Tokyo Detention House, while a lay judge trial handed down the death sentence for the first time in November, sparking public controversy over the capital punishment system.
14 sentenced to death in Japan this year, lowest in 11 years
The number of people sentenced to death by Japanese courts in 2010 came to 14, down 20 from last year, reflecting a decrease in heinous crimes such as murder and a more cautious stance by the courts on handing down the death sentence, a Kyodo News survey showed Thursday.
Of the 14, three, including a minor convicted of killing two women in Miyagi Prefecture, were sentenced to death by the newly introduced lay judge system.
The number of death sentences given by district and high courts as well as the Supreme Court had followed a rising path since 2000 to reach 46 in 2007. The latest figure fell below 20 for the first time since 1999, when 16 people were given the death sentence.
According to the National Police Agency, the number of atrocious crimes such as murder, robbery and rape has been decreasing since hitting 11,360 in 2005, totaling 6,989 as of the end of November this year.
The Kyodo survey also found courts gave life imprisonment to eight defendants for whom prosecutors had sought the death penalty.
While two death row inmates were hanged this year at the instruction of former Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, the number of convicts whose death penalty has been finalized has reached 111, the largest since 1949, staying above 100 for the fourth straight year, according to the Justice Ministry.
Of the 111, 65 have been seeking retrials, while 15 have applied for amnesty. Meanwhile, two death row inmates died in prison this year.
In an extremely rare move, Chiba, a former member of the Japan Parliamentary League against the Death Penalty, attended the executions and decided to partially disclose the execution chambers to the media in order to stir public debate over capital punishment.
According to Amnesty International, 139 countries, more than two-thirds of nations worldwide, have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice as of the end of last year. In 2009, only 18 countries, including Japan, carried out executions.