Three convicted murderers were hanged Tuesday, the Justice Ministry said, bringing the number of executions this year to seven and maintaining the fast pace that saw 15 people sent to the gallows in 2008.
Hanged were a double-killer and two triple-killers, including one who met his victims through a suicide Web site.
It was the third set of execution orders signed by Justice Minister Eisuke Mori, who sent four inmates to the gallows Jan. 29 and two others last October. He assumed the post last September.
“I just conducted my duty as justice minister,” Mori said at a news conference following the executions.
Asked why he signed off on the executions at a time of political instability, he said, “I am still the justice minister, even after the Lower House was dissolved.”
Prime Minister Taro Aso dissolved the chamber July 21 and called the election for Aug. 30. Mori, a Lower House member until the dissolution, is expected to be busy preparing for his re-election campaign.
Human rights group Amnesty International Japan blasted the justice minister’s action.
“With the Lower House election coming up in August, it is almost certain that Justice Minister Mori, the person with the supreme authority to sign off on executions, will resign. Conducting executions at a time like this is effectively the same as committing the act with nobody assuming responsibility,” the group charged in a statement.
Executions have been on the rise in recent years. Mori’s immediate predecessor, Okiharu Yasuoka, signed off on three executions last September even though he held the office for only about a month.
The man he replaced, Kunio Hatoyama, the younger brother of Democratic Party of Japan President Yukio Hatoyama, ordered 13 executions during his 12-month stint that started in August 2007, the most hangings by a single justice minister since at least 1993.
Mori disclosed the names of the prisoners, a practice started by Hatoyama.
Chen Detong, 41, a Chinese, was convicted of killing two men and a woman and attempting to murder another man and woman with a knife in 1999 because they allegedly violently mistreated him at the apartment they shared in Kawasaki. He was hanged at the Tokyo Detention Center.
Yukio Yamaji, 25, was convicted of raping and slashing a woman and her sister to death and torching their condominium in 2005 in Osaka. He was executed at the Osaka Detention Center.
Hiroshi Maeue, 40, was convicted of killing three people he met via an online bulletin board for those wishing to commit suicide on three separate occasions in Osaka Prefecture from February to June 2005.
In all three cases, he strangled the victims — a female and two males, one of whom was 14 years old. According to a document provided by the Justice Ministry, Maeue became sexually aroused by the sight of people struggling while being strangled.
He was also hanged at the Osaka Detention Center.
Chen’s death sentence was finalized July 15, 2006, Yamaji’s on May 31, 2007, and Maeue’s on July 5, 2007.
The number of death-row inmates now stands at 101.
Amnesty International Japan also said in its statement that more than 70 percent of countries have either abolished the death sentence or have otherwise effectively halted executions.
South Korea has staged no executions in 10 years, while Taiwan has abstained for three years, Amnesty said.
The United States, the only country in the Group of Eight besides Japan that has capital punishment on the books, has seen states carrying out fewer executions, while Islamic countries, generally considered disposed to the death penalty, also are becoming more circumspect about executions, the group said.
Until 2007, executions in China, which puts far more people to death than any other country, were trending down. However, in 2008 the figure jumped to at least 1,718 from some 470 the year before, the group said, adding, however, that since Beijing last year changed the way executions are counted, it cannot say definitively if they are on the rise or not.
Nonetheless, Japan is one of the few countries where executions are on the rise, it said.
Last Dec. 18 the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a halt in executions.