Japan has hanged a child killer and two other convicted murderers, its first executions since a conservative government swept to power in landslide elections in December.
Kaoru Kobayashi, 44, killed a seven-year-old girl and sent a photograph of the dead body to her mother in 2004, while Masahiro Kanagawa, 29, killed one man and injured seven other people in a knifing spree outside a shopping mall in a Tokyo suburb in 2008.
He also murdered another man in a separate incident the same year.
The third was Keiki Muto, 62, who strangled a bar owner for money in 2002.
"I ordered the executions after giving careful consideration to the matter," Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki told a press briefing in Tokyo, as he confirmed the trio were hanged early Thursday morning.
"These were extremely cruel cases in which victims were deprived of their precious lives for very selfish reasons."
Child killer Kobayashi admitted the abduction, sexual assault and murder of the seven-year-old whose body was found in a gutter in western Japan.
The executions were Japan's first since two death-row inmates were hanged in September under a centre-left Democratic Party of Japan government.
The number of death-row inmates in Japan now stands at 134.
Japan did not execute any condemned inmates in 2011, the first full year in nearly two decades without an execution amid muted debate on the rights and wrongs of a policy that enjoys wide public support.
But in March last year, Tokyo resumed its use of capital punishment with an unapologetic government minister signing death warrants for three multiple murderers.
Apart from the United States, Japan is the only major industrialised democracy to carry out capital punishment, a practice that has led to repeated protests from European governments and human rights groups.
International advocacy groups say the system is cruel because death row 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.
On Thursday, Amnesty International's Japan branch said it "strongly condemns" Thursday's executions.
"The Japanese government cannot be excused from abiding by international human rights standards by citing how the public are feeling," the group said in a Japanese language statement.
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
© 2013 AFP