Japan hangs two death row inmates

Keiko Chiba speaks at the Justice Ministry on 28 July 2010
Image caption Justice Minister Keiko Chiba called for debate on the death penalty

Japan has hanged two death row inmates, in the first executions since the new government took power last year.

The two prisoners, both convicted killers, were hanged at the Tokyo Detention Centre.

Justice Minister Keiko Chiba - who opposes the death penalty - witnessed the executions and announced the formation of a group to review the death penalty.

Opinion polls show broad support for capital punishment in Japan.

The two men executed were Kazuo Shinozawa, 59, convicted of killing six women in a jewellery shop fire, and Hidenori Ogata, 33, who killed a man and a woman in 2003.

Ms Chiba said that as justice minister she believed it was her duty to witness the executions in person.

"It made me again think deeply about the death penalty, and I once again strongly felt that there is a need for a fundamental discussion about the death penalty," she said.

Ms Chiba's appointment in September - when the new Democratic Party-led government came to power - was seen as a sign that debate could be opened on the issue.

A total of 107 inmates remain on death row in Japan. Prisoners are usually executed two or three at a time.

Last year, a report from rights group Amnesty International called for an immediate moratorium on executions in Japan, saying that harsh conditions on death row were driving inmates insane.

Prisoners are not told when they will be executed and their relatives are told only after the sentence has been carried out.

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