Japan executes two convicted murderers

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan executed two convicted murderers on Thursday (July 13), the justice ministry said, ignoring calls from international rights groups to end capital punishment.

The hangings of Masakatsu Nishikawa and Koichi Sumida bring to 19 the total number of executions since conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power in late 2012.

Nishikawa, 61, was convicted of killing four female bar owners in western Japan in 1991, while Sumida, 34, was sentenced to death for killing his female colleague in 2011 and dismembering her body, news reports said.

Japan and the United States are the only major developed countries that still carry out capital punishment.

Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda authorised the executions, according to government spokesman Yoshihide Suga.

"The justice minister made the decision appropriately under the provision of the law," Suga told a news conference.

The death penalty has overwhelming public support in Japan despite repeated protests from European governments and human rights groups.

Opponents say Japan's system is cruel because inmates can wait for their executions for many years in solitary confinement and are only told of their impending death a few hours ahead of time.