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Last Updated: Friday, 7 December 2007, 06:30 GMT
Three prisoners executed in Japan
Japanese Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama
Japan's justice minister made the decision to name the hanged men
Japanese authorities have hanged three men, bringing the number of executions in the country this year to nine.

For the first time, the names of the hanged men were made public.

Previously, authorities would not release any details about executed men, in order to reduce the psychological damage to their families.

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

New minister

The hanged men were named as Noboru Ikemoto, 75, Seiha Fujima, 47, and Hiroki Fukawa, 42.

[Inmates live under] a harsh regime and in solitary confinement
Amnesty International

The decision to release the hanged men's names was taken by Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama, who took office in August.

"We praise this move away from secrecy in executions," Amnesty International Japan said in a statement.

Human rights groups were less positive about Mr Hatoyama's call in August for the "automatic" execution of all inmates six months after the failure of their last appeal.

Currently, ministers have to authorise every individual execution in Japan.

Mr Hatoyama attempted to head off the criticism by commissioning a panel of experts and death penalty opponents to examine ways of reforming the system.

The BBC's Chris Hogg in Tokyo says that Japan's execution policies have been much criticised by activists.

In particular, he says, critics point to the practice of not telling inmates the date of their execution until just before they are taken to the gallows, and not informing inmates' families of the date until after the execution has taken place.

Activists' views on executions are not shared by the Japanese population as a whole, however: a recent poll suggests that fewer than one in 10 Japanese people oppose the death penalty.

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