TOKYO – Japan on Thursday hanged four convicted murderers, officials said, carrying out its first executions of the year despite international criticism.
Japan is the only major industrial nation other than the United States to apply the death penalty. It last carried out executions in October when it hanged two inmates.
Japan hanged the four prisoners in Tokyo, Nagoya and Fukuoka, the justice ministry said in a statement.
The executed inmates included Yukinari Kawamura, 44, and his accomplice Tetsuya Sato, 39, who were convicted of killing two women and then burning and cutting up their bodies.
Japan also executed Shojiro Nishimoto, 32, who was convicted of killing four people during repeated burglaries, the justice ministry said.
The other hanged inmate was Tadashi Makino, 58, who killed a woman and injured three other women during a burglary, it said.
The death penalty is overwhelmingly supported by the public in Japan, which has one of the world's lowest crime rates.
Conservative governments have stepped up the pace of executions. Last year Japan hanged 15 death-row inmates, the highest since 1975 when the country executed 17 people.
But Japan has regularly come under fire from the European Union and international human rights groups over its use of the death penalty.
Amnesty International plans to issue a protest to the Japanese government after reviewing the latest executions, a member of the London-based rights group's Tokyo chapter said.
Rights groups also criticise the way that Japan executes inmates.
Prison authorities give inmates only short notice that they are headed to the gallows in a bid to ward off last-minute appeals.