Takamatsu, Kagawa Pref. -- District and high courts across Japan sentenced a record 30 people to death this year, while 56 death-row inmates did not appeal their sentences or lost appeals as of Monday, according to Kyodo News calculations based on court data.
The figures appear to reflect a trend toward more severe sentences amid an increasing number of heinous crimes. Meanwhile, a suprapartisan group of lawmakers are calling for an end to executions and for the introduction of life imprisonment without parole in place of the death penalty.
High courts sentenced 17 people to death in 2003, the most in 10 years, while district courts handed down death penalties on 13 people -- the third-highest figure after the record high of 18 last year and 14 in 2000. The Supreme Court did not render any judgments to support death sentences this year.
Only one prisoner was executed, the lowest number in 10 years. The hanging took place in September at the Osaka Detention Center.
The group of lawmakers compiled a bill in June calling for the death penalty to be replaced by life imprisonment without parole and will submit the legislation to the Diet next year. The group cited concerns about people being wrongly accused and noted that more than half of U.N. member states have abolished capital punishment.
The bill was not handed to the Diet this year because of opposition from many lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Convicts sentenced to death this year include four members of Aum Shinrikyo who participated in the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and other crimes.
Mamoru Takuma, 40, who withdrew an appeal filed by his defense team in September at the Osaka District Court, is one of two death-row inmates who did not appeal or lost an appeal this year. Takuma killed eight children and wounded 13 others and two teachers in a stabbing rampage at an elementary school in Osaka Prefecture in 2001.
Tsuneki Tomiyama, 86, who was sentenced to death for killing a farmer with poison in 1963 in Hasaki, Ibaraki Prefecture, and lost his appeal in 1976, was one of two death-row inmates who died of illness.