Japan hanged three death row inmates on Tuesday, its first executions in two years, amid mounting criticism from human rights groups about the use of the death penalty in the country.
One of the three, Yasutaka Fujishiro, was found guilty of killing seven people and setting their home on fire in 2004, while the other two, Tomoaki Takanezawa and Mitsunori Onogawa, were convicted of killing two pinball salon employees in 2003.
Executions are carried out in strict secrecy in Japan, where prisoners are not informed of their fate until the morning they are hanged. Since 2007, Japan has started disclosing the names of those executed and some details of their crimes, but the information is still limited.
Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa said at a press conference that the three had committed “extremely horrific” crimes and that the sentence was appropriate.
Furukawa declined to comment on the timing of executions, often carried out during the year-end vacation during parliamentary recess, in what opponents say is an attempt by the government to contain criticism. The Japanese parliament held its last session of the year on Tuesday.
“As Justice Minister, I have approved her executions after careful consideration,” said Furukawa.
Japan now has 107 people in death row detention centers instead of regular prisons.
She has upheld the death penalty despite mounting international criticism, stating that the penalty is necessary to consider victims’ feelings and deter heinous crimes.
Japan and the USA are the only two countries in the group of seven industrialized nations to use the death penalty. A poll by the Japanese government showed that an overwhelming majority of the public are in favor of executions, Furukawa said.
He defended the short-term notification of inmates to be executed, citing a “serious psychological impact” on them if they were informed of their fate in advance.
Two death row inmates recently filed a lawsuit against the government saying the system caused mental distress and seeking compensation for the mental suffering they lived in insecurity until the last day of their lives.
Most executions continue long after they are sentenced.
The executions were the first since December 26, 2019, when a Chinese citizen convicted of killing a family of four in Fukuoka in 2003 was executed. He was one of three to be hanged that year. In 2018, 15 were executed by Japan, including 13 members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult convicted in a fatal nerve gas attack on Tokyo’s subways in 1995.