TOKYO (AP) — Three death row inmates in Japan were executed by hanging on Thursday, the country's first executions in more than a year and a half.
The men were reportedly hanged in three different prisons. One was convicted of ramming a car into a train station and then knifing people nearby, killing five, in 1999. The second killed two people in 2001 and the third killed three in 2002.
Justice Minister Toshio Ogawa confirmed the executions in a news conference, saying that the punishment is supported by the public. He did not provide details, and all major Japanese media quoted anonymous Justice Ministry officials for details on who was executed.
The executions were Japan's first since July 2010. Capital punishment is usually ordered only for inmates convicted of multiple murders. Japan has 132 death row convicts, which is near its highest level since World War II.
Japan, along with the United States, is one of the few industrialized countries that still has capital punishment. All executions in Japan are carried out by hanging. Inmates on death row do not know when they will be executed until the last minute, while family members and lawyers are only told afterward.
The lack of transparency in the system has been criticized by rights groups such as Amnesty International and the main Japanese bar association. But capital punishment is generally supported by the public, according to opinion polls.
Public broadcaster NHK said 2011 was the first full year without any executions in 19 years.