More people were executed in Asia than in any other part of the world in 2008. China carried out more executions than the rest of the world put together. By contrast, in Europe, only one country continues to use the death penalty: Belarus.
"The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Beheadings, electrocutions, hangings, lethal injections, shootings and stonings have no place in the 21st century," said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International as Amnesty International issued revealed its figures on the use of the death penalty last year.
The report, Death Sentences and Executions in 2008, provides a world overview on the death penalty. Between January and December 2008, at least 2,390 people were executed in 25 countries around the world, with at least 8,864 sentenced to death in 52 states.
The Middle East and North Africa was the region with the second highest number of executions (508). In Iran, stoning and hanging were among the cruel and inhumane methods used with at least 346 people put to death, including eight juvenile offenders. In Saudi Arabia, where execution is usually by public beheading and is, in some cases, followed by crucifixion, at least 102 people were executed.
The report also details the countries that handed down death sentences after unfair trials, including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.
The report addresses the discriminatory manner with which the death penalty was often applied in 2008. A disproportionate number of sentences were handed down to the poor, minorities and members of racial, ethnic and religious communities in countries such as Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and USA.
The risk of executing the innocent continues, as highlighted by the four inmates released from death row in the USA on grounds of innocence.
Many death row inmates languish in harsh detention conditions and face psychological hardship. For example, inmates in Japan are typically notified of their hanging only on the morning of their execution and their families are informed only after the execution has taken place.
"Capital punishment is not just an act, but a legalized process of physical and psychological terror that culminates in people being killed by the state. It must be brought to an end," said Irene Khan.
Most of the world is moving a step closer to the abolition of the death penalty, with only 25 out of the 59 countries that retain the death penalty reported to have actually executed people in 2008. However, Amnesty International warned that, in spite of this trend, death sentences continue to be handed out in their hundreds all over the world.
Progress was undermined, however, in 2008 by countries like St Kitts and Nevis, which carried out the first execution in the Americas outside the USA since 2003, and Liberia, where the death penalty was introduced for the crimes of robbery, terrorism and hijacking. Only two officially recorded executions were carried out in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2008, but at least 362 people were sentenced to death.
"The good news is that executions are only carried out by a small number of countries, which shows that we are moving closer to a death-penalty free world," said Irene Khan. "By contrast, the bad news is that hundreds of people continue to be sentenced to death and suffer in the many countries that have not yet formally abolished the death penalty."