Three inmates were hanged Thursday, in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Fukuoka, in the country’s first executions since July 2010.

Justice Minister Toshio Ogawa, the first of the past six justice ministers to tacitly support capital punishment, signed off on the three executions Thursday morning.

“I just performed my duty as a justice minister. The right to punish criminals rests on Japanese nationals, and a government poll shows the majority of Japanese support the death sentence,” Ogawa said at a news conference. “Also, lay judge trials maintain the death sentence as a punishment, and lay judges are from the general public.”

The number of inmates whose death sentence has been finalized fell to 132 from 135 as a result of Thursday’s executions.

Ogawa disclosed their names and crimes in a practice started in December 2007 when Kunio Hatoyama was justice minister.

The executions came soon after Ogawa earlier this month put an end to government-led discussions on capital punishment by lawyers, prosecutors, professors, relatives of murder victims and others involved in the issue.

The discussions were initiated by capital punishment foe Keiko Chiba when she was justice minister. The four succeeding justice ministers maintained the discussions.

Ogawa said he terminated them because capital punishment opponents and supporters “will never reach a compromise” and the discussions will “never yield any conclusions.”

The number of executions vary greatly between justice ministers. Two prisoners were hanged in 2010, seven in 2009, 15 in 2008, nine in 2007 and four in 2006.

Japan is one of 58 countries, including the U.S., China, India and Iran, where executions take place; 104 nations, including all of the European countries, Canada and Australia, either have abolished capital punishment or have kept the death sentence on the books but have not conducted executions for years, according to Amnesty International.

The three people executed Thursday were Yasutoshi Matsuda, 44, Tomoyuki Furusawa, 46, and Yasuaki Uwabe, 48.

Matsuda, hanged at the Fukuoka Detention House, was convicted of killing and robbing two women in Miyazaki Prefecture, in November and December 2001, for money he was going to spend for his own pleasure.

Furusawa, hanged at the Tokyo Detention House, was convicted of murdering his 12-year-old stepson and his estranged wife’s parents in July 2002. He was also found guilty of confining his wife in Yokohama the month before out of suspicion that she was having an affair.

Uwabe, hanged at the Hiroshima Detention House, was convicted of running over seven people with a car, two of whom died, and slashing seven other people with a knife, killing three, at JR Shimonoseki Station in, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in September 1999.

Opponents of capital punishment rapped the government over the executions.

Koichi Kikuta, a professor emeritus of criminology at Meiji University, said he doubts Ogawa had enough time after becoming minister to examine the inmates’ records, adding the minister “made a big mistake.”

“It is arrogant of him to believe he has carried out his duty as justice minister” by ordering the executions, Kikuta said.

Takeshi Tsuchimoto, a former prosecutor in the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office, said that although he believes Japan should retain capital punishment, the government should disclose more information on the living conditions on death row and what goes on in death chambers to deepen public understanding.

Information from Kyodo added

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