In this photo taken and released on Aug. 27, 2010 by Japan's Justice Ministry, the trapdoor where a condemned criminal is to stand is wide open downward in an execution room at Tokyo Detention Center when the local media are allowed a rare tour of Tokyo's main gallows in a bid to create more public awareness about capital punishment. Three death row inmates in Japan were executed by hanging on Thursday, March 29, 2012, the country's first executions in more than a year and a half. Japan, along with the United States, is one of the few industrialized countries that still has capital punishment. The room behind the glass window is for witnesses to stand and observe the execution. (AP Photo/Justice Ministry) EDITORIAL USE ONLY, NO CROPPING ALLOWED
TOKYO (AP) — Three men convicted of multiple killings were hanged Thursday in Japan's first executions in more than a year and a half.
One death-row inmate had been convicted of ramming a car into a train station and then knifing people nearby, killing five, in 1999. Another killed two people in 2001, and the third condemned prisoner killed three in 2002. Reports said the men were executed at three different prisons.
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, however, 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.