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The Justice Ministry kicked off discussions Friday on the future of the death penalty — including the possibility of abolishing it — in a study group set up at the order of Justice Minister Keiko Chiba late last month.

The first session was attended by Chiba, the ministry’s two other politically appointed officials — Senior Vice Justice Minister Koichi Kato and Parliamentary Justice Secretary Tetsuji Nakamura — and senior bureaucrats, including the heads of the criminal affairs, correction and rehabilitation bureaus, ministry officials said.

The panel is scheduled to hold a second session in late August and a third in early September and to open the hearings to outside experts at the third session, the officials said.

In her opening remarks Friday, Chiba said the study group will discuss whether to maintain the death penalty and explore a range of issues involving executions, notably prior notice to death-row inmates.

Chiba announced the study group at a news conference on July 28 after the ministry hanged two inmates — the first executions since the Democratic Party of Japan-led government took power last September.

She said at the time that she attended the executions at the Tokyo Detention House herself and instructed the facility to allow the media to visit the death chamber in the interest of opening full deliberations on the subject.

On the day of an execution, the Justice Ministry used to limit information to the core facts — that someone was hanged. It then started releasing names, the location of the hangings, and outlines of the final and binding judgments that sealed a convict’s fate.

The changes came after a study group on capital punishment was set up when Kunio Hatoyama was justice minister between August 2007 and August 2008.

The government has partly cited public sentiment for maintaining the death penalty.

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