World News

Japan hangs three, discloses names and crimes

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan hanged three death row inmates on Friday and for the first time revealed names and details of the crimes in a change of policy aimed at bolstering public support for capital punishment.

The deaths bring the number to nine this year, the highest in 31 years, Kyodo news agency said.

In a system often criticised for secrecy, the Justice Ministry had previously announced only the number of people hanged, although domestic media would reveal their identities.

The three hanged on Friday included Seiha Fujima, 47, who killed a 16-year-old girl, her mother and a sister after the girl refused his romantic advances, the ministry said in a statement.

Hiroki Fukawa, 42, and Noboru Ikemoto, 74, were also convicted of multiple murders, the ministry said.

“It was decided that more information disclosure was needed in order to gain public support,” a ministry official said.

Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama told a parliamentary panel he had sought the change.

Opinion polls show most Japanese favour capital punishment despite relatively low rates of crime, which a study published this week showed had fallen since 2002.

“We welcome signs of opening up amid the secrecy that surrounds the capital punishment system,” Amnesty International Japan said in a statement. “But we strongly protest the fact that this is the third round of executions this year and nine people have been executed.”

Japan’s capital punishment has been widely criticised, including by the UN Committee against Torture, partly because those on death row are not told when they will be executed until the day they are hanged. Many remain on death row for decades.

Forum 90, a group that campaigns against the death penalty, said 107 people were now on death row.

Hatoyama came under fire after proposing in September that death sentences should not require the signature of the minister.

A previous justice minister, Seiken Sugiura, had not signed any death warrants because of his religious beliefs.

Lawyers and human rights groups have expressed concern that sentencing will become harsher because of a new emphasis in Japan on the opinions of crime victims and their families.

Last month a U.N. committee passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on capital punishment, although similar moves have been rejected by the world body’s general assembly in the past.

Executions are also effectively on hold in the United States as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the legality of lethal injections.