Page last updated at 04:25 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 05:25 UK

Three prisoners hanged in Japan

Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama talks to journalists after the executions
Executions are being carried out responsibly, Mr Hatoyama says

Three death row prisoners have been executed in Japan, the authorities there have announced.

All three had been convicted of murder, a Justice Ministry statement said. One was a man found guilty of killing four young girls in the late 1980s.

The executions bring to 10 the number of people hanged this year in Japan.

It is one of the few industrialised countries to retain the death penalty and it appears to be stepping up the pace of executions.

A unofficial moratorium was in place for 15 months until 2006, because then Justice Minister Seiken Sugiura said the death penalty ran contrary to his Buddhist beliefs.

But the current post-holder, Kunio Hatoyama, backs the death penalty - and says the public support it too.

"We are carrying out executions by selecting the people whom we can execute with a feeling of confidence and responsibility," he told a news conference.

One of the three men executed was Tsutomu Miyazaki, 45, who was convicted of killing and mutilating four young girls two decades ago.

The case made headlines in Japan and sparked calls for tighter controls on violent pornographic material when a large collection was found in Miyazaki's home.

The other two men were Shinji Matsuda, 45, and Yoshio Yamasaki, 73, who were both found guilty of murder.

Nine prisoners were executed in Japan in 2007, and more than 100 remain on death row.

Human rights groups are critical of the secrecy surrounding executions in Japan.

Relatives are told only after the hangings have taken place and, until December 2007, the names of those executed were not publicly announced.

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