As a Japanese man is released after 48 years on death row – a new report shows that publicly disclosed executions jumped nearly 15 per cent in 2013.
Iwao Hakamada, a former boxer, was convicted of killing four people in a 1966 murder case.
The murder victims were an executive of a soybean processing firm and his three family members in Shizuoka City, central Japan.
Mr Hakamada was an employee of the firm. His death sentence was finalised in 1980. He is believed to be the longest-serving death row inmate in the world.
I want to tell him that very soon now, he will be free – Iwao Hakamada’s sister Hideko
However, his death sentence was suspended on Thursday after the presiding judge heard arguments from his lawyer that DNA tests on bloodstained clothing said to be Mr Hakamada’s had shown that the blood was not his.
The court said keeping him in detention any longer was unjust. Mr Hakamada will now face a retrial.
Mr Hakamado’s sister Hideko, who read out a statement shortly after the ruling, said: “I want to see him as soon as I can and tell him, ‘You really persevered.’
“I want to tell him that very soon now, he will be free.”
Mr Hakamada’s release coincided with the publication of Amnesty International’s annual death penalty report.
The report showed that Iran and Iraq caused a sharp spike in the global number of executions carried out in 2013.
Levels of executions in an isolated group of countries – mainly the two middle eastern states – saw nearly 100 more people put to death around the world compared to the previous year.
The number of executions in Iran (at least 369) and Iraq (169) saw the two countries take second and third place in the death penalty league table, with China topping the list.
Only a small number of countries carried out the vast majority of these senseless state-sponsored killings – Amnesty International
While the number of executions in China is kept secret, Amnesty believes thousands are put to death every year.
Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty said: “The virtual killing sprees we saw in countries like Iran and Iraq were shameful. But those states who cling to the death penalty are on the wrong side of history and are, in fact, growing more and more isolated.
“Only a small number of countries carried out the vast majority of these senseless state-sponsored killings. They can’t undo the overall progress already made towards abolition.”
Little or no information was available in some countries, in particular Belize, Eritrea, Libya, Malaysia, North Korea, Suriname and Syria.
Of continuing concern to Amnesty was the use of the death penalty by military courts, in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Egypt and Somalia.
On 24 March death sentences were handed down by an Egyptian court to more than 500 people accused of involvement in an attack on a police station.
The Egyptian foreign ministry insisted the judiciary was “entirely independent” and not influenced by the Cairo government as a series of trials of alleged Mohammed Morsi supporters continued.
Death sentences are often overturned on appeal in Egypt, but Foreign Secretary William Hague delivered a clear signal of UK concerns.
He said: “Reports that many of the accused were tried in their absence and that defendants may not have been adequately represented are also deeply worrying.
“We urge the Egyptian authorities to ensure full respect for defendants’ rights, and hope they will review this unacceptable sentence.
“It is the long-standing policy of her majesty’s government to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle.”