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Japan carries out first death row executions since 2019

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By Euronews  with AFP
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A warden stands at solitary cell area for inmates during a press tour of the Tokyo Detention House in Tokyo, June 10, 2019.
A warden stands at solitary cell area for inmates during a press tour of the Tokyo Detention House in Tokyo, June 10, 2019.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Koji Sasahara

Japan executed three death row inmates on Tuesday, applying the death penalty for the first time since December 2019.

"Three death row inmates were executed today," a justice ministry official has confirmed.

They were a 65-year-old man convicted of the hammer and knife murders of seven family members and neighbours in 2004, and two men aged 54 and 44 convicted of a double murder in 2003, she said.

Japan executed three convicts in 2019 and 15 in 2018, including 13 members of the Aum sect, which was involved in a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo underground in 1995.

Public support for capital punishment in Japan remains strong despite criticism from abroad, particularly from human rights organisations.

"Whether or not to retain the death penalty is a crucial issue that concerns the foundations of Japan's criminal justice system," Deputy Secretary-General of Government Seiji Kihara commented at a press briefing on Tuesday.

"As atrocious crimes continue to be committed, the death penalty must be imposed on those who have perpetrated acts of such gravity and atrocity that it is unavoidable," he added.

There are currently more than 100 death row inmates in Japan, and long years usually pass between sentencing and execution by hanging, but inmates are usually notified only hours before their execution.

In early November, two death row inmates filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government, claiming that the practice is illegal and causes psychological damage.

Their lawyer told AFP that executions were usually announced to the condemned prisoners only one or two hours beforehand, preventing them from seeing their lawyer or lodging an appeal.

Meanwhile, Japan's Supreme Court overturned a decision in December 2020 blocking a request for a retrial of Iwao Hakamada, an 85-year-old man now considered the world's oldest death row inmate.

Hakamada spent more than four decades on death row after he was sentenced to death in 1968 for the quadruple murder of his boss and three of his boss's family members.

The Japanese man confessed to the crime after weeks of interrogation in custody before recanting. Since then, he has maintained his innocence, but his conviction was upheld in 1980.

Japan's capital punishment is carried out by hanging with the inmate handcuffed and blindfolded standing over a trap door opened by a mechanism triggered by one of three buttons in an adjoining room. The buttons must be pressed simultaneously by three guards who do not know which one is active.