TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan hanged three convicted multiple murderers on Thursday, the Justice Ministry said, its first executions in almost two years putting it back alongside the United States as the only leading developed nations to carry out the death penalty.
Justice Minister Toshio Ogawa authorized the executions of the three men and they were hanged in jails in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Fukuoka, the ministry said.
They were the first executions in Japan since two death row inmates were hanged in July 2010. Those executions marked the first time capital sentences had been carried out since the Democratic Party of Japan took power in late 2009.
There are currently 132 inmates on death row in Japan, Kyodo news agency reported. They include 13 members of the doomsday cult that staged deadly gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995.
Japanese media reported that one of the men executed on Thursday had killed five people at a train station in western Japan in 1999.
A government survey in 2009 showed that 86 percent of Japanese people supported the death penalty. Despite the delay between executions, there has been no formal moratorium on capital punishment.
Former justice minister Keiko Chiba, an opponent of the death penalty, authorized and attended the 2010 hangings and later allowed the media into the death chamber in an attempt to stir up public debate.
Ogawa, who took office in a cabinet reshuffle in January, has said he would order executions of those on death row because the Japanese people supported capital punishment.
According to an Amnesty International report published on Tuesday, at least 676 people were executed in 20 countries in 2011, compared with 527 executions in 23 countries in 2010, a 28 percent increase.
The United States carried out 43 executions in 2011, down from 46 a year earlier, the report said. Amnesty said China executed more people than the rest of the world put together.
Japan and the United States are the only countries in the Group of Eight leading economies to carry out the death penalty. Both have been the target of strong criticism by Amnesty and other human rights groups.
Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Writing by Tomasz Janowski; Editing by Paul Tait