[JURIST] Japan's Ministry of Justice [official website, in Japanese] announced Thursday that four death row inmates were executed, despite international pressure to end the practice. The executions [Mainichi Daily News report] are the country's first of 2009. Last year, the Ministry of Justice carried out the execution of 15 prisoners, including three inmates in June [JURIST report], as well as an additional two inmates in October [BBC News report]. Thursday's four executions brings to 19 the number of executions in Japan since Minister of Justice Kunio Hatoyama [official profile] took office in August 2007. In recent years, Japan has experienced a sharp upswing in both violent crime [BBC report; MOJ backgrounder] and the perceived risk of violent crime [Japan Focus study], factors used as justification for increasing the use of capital punishment.
One of the last developed nations to still use the death penalty, Japan has endured international criticism for the practice since it ended an unofficial moratorium [JURIST reports] on capital punishment in 1993. In November 2008, the UN Human Rights Committee urged Japan to take steps to abolish the death penalty [JURIST report]. Amnesty International issued a statement urging Japan to stop executions [text] after the hanging of four men in April. In February, a group of parliamentarians proposed a four-year moratorium on the practice [JURIST report]. In August 2007, Japan's national bar association called for a moratorium on the death penalty [press release, in Japanese; JURIST report] until new safeguards are enacted to prevent wrongful executions.