Three men were hanged in Japan on Tuesday, bringing the total number of executions carried out in the country this year to seven. Hiroshi Maeue and Yukio Yamaji were executed in Osaka and Chen Detong, a Chinese national, was executed in Tokyo. Increasingly countries are moving away from using the death penalty as the ultimate punishment. More than 70 per cent of countries have a moratorium on executions or have abolished capital punishment but in Japan executions have continued to rise. “In South Korea there have been no executions for more than 10 years. In Taiwan there have been no executions for three years. But in Japan executions continue to rise bucking the international trend away from the death penalty,” said Martin Macpherson, Amnesty International’s Director of the International Law and Organizations programme. “Many countries have demonstrated that serious crime can be combated without resorting to capital punishment and that there is no compelling evidence that the death penalty is more of a deterrent than life sentences,” Martin Macpherson said. Japan recently introduced a new lay-judge system that will include citizens in serious criminal cases, including death penalty cases. Lay-judges will sit with professional judges to determine guilt or innocence and decide on sentencing. The first trials under this new system are due to start on 3 August this year. “With the introduction of the new lay-judge system Japan should seize the opportunity to review its laws on capital punishment and immediately halt all executions in accordance with the UN General Assembly resolutions calling for a moratorium on the death penalty,” Martin Macpherson said. Executions in Japan are by hanging and are usually carried out in secret. Prisoners are typically given a few hours notice but some may be given no warning at all. This means that prisoners who have exhausted their appeal options spend their time on death row knowing they could be executed at any time. Their families are typically notified after the execution has taken place. Chen Detong’s defence argued to the Supreme Court that he was mentally-ill (“quasi-insane”) at the time of committing the crime. Japanese law requires a reduction of punishment where an accused or convicted person has a diminished capacity or competence at the time of the crime, during the legal process or at the time of execution. However, the Supreme Court upheld his death sentence on Monday. Maeue and Yamaji both withdrew their appeals at the High Court. Maeue and Yamaji were the subjects of an urgent action issued by Amnesty International on 27 February 2009. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases, as a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. The organization says that as the death penalty is irrevocable, there is always the risk that an innocent man or women will be executed. Furthermore the death penalty is inherently arbitrary and discriminates against those who are poor, marginalized or belong to minority communities.