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Last Updated: Friday, 1 February 2008, 07:14 GMT
Three Japanese prisoners executed
Japanese Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama
Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama strongly backs capital punishment
Three death row prisoners have been executed in Japan, the authorities have announced.

The justice ministry identified the men as convicted murderers Masahiko Matsubara, 63, Takashi Mochida, 65, and Keishi Nago, 37.

They were hanged at separate prisons in Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka.

Human rights groups are critical of the secrecy surrounding executions in Japan, one of the few industrialised countries to retain the death penalty.

Relatives are told only after the hangings have taken place and this is just the second time the names of those executed have been publicly announced.

The first was in December 2007, when three men were executed.

Campaigners remain critical of Japan's continued use of the death penalty, but opinion polls suggest the policy is supported by an overwhelming majority of Japan's population.

"For extremely vicious criminal cases, public opinion holds that death sentences must be handed down and carried out," Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama said.

"We have considered a variety of factors so that we can carry out executions in a methodical manner, rather than thinking about the intervals and the timing," he said.

Nine people were executed in Japan in 2007. Friday's three executions are the first this year.

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