Japan hangs two in first executions under centre-left govt

TOKYO, July 28, 2010 (AFP) - Japan hanged two men for murder on Wednesday in the first state executions since the centre-left Democratic Party of Japan took power last September, officials said.

One of the convicts, Kazuo Shinozawa, 59, killed six people by setting fire to a jewellery store northeast of Tokyo, and the other, Hidenori Ogata, 33, injured or killed four people north of Tokyo, reports said.

Japan last executed prisoners when it put to death three inmates, including one Chinese national, for multiple murder in July last year when the conservative Liberal Democratic Party ruled the country.

Capital punishment is overwhelmingly supported by the public in Japan, which has one of the world's lowest crime rates, although the DPJ has in the past said it favoured public discussion on the topic.

London-based human rights group Amnesty International in a report last September accused Japan of keeping death row convicts in conditions that are "cruel, inhuman and degrading" and were tipping many into insanity.

The group said that at the time 97 inmates were awaiting death by hanging in Japan, with no idea if or when they would be put to death, leading to a state of uncertainty that creates enormous mental stress.

Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, who is known as an opponent of the death penalty, said she attended Wednesday's executions herself, and also announced that she planned to release more details about the process in future.

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