Even as the number of countries using execution as punishment has decreased, those using capital punishment are doing so at an alarmingly high rate, says an international organisation.
First, the good news. Only 10% of the countries in the world, 20 out of 198, carried out executions last year. The number of countries employing capital punishment has decreased by more than a third compared to a decade ago, Amnesty International found in its annual review of death sentences.
But those 10% using death sentences are using it at an increasing rate, and the real numbers are often supressed, the organisation says.
Thousands of people were executed in China in 2011, more than the rest of the world put together, says Amnesty.
“Figures on the death penalty are a state secret. Amnesty International has stopped publishing figures it collects from public sources in China as these are likely to grossly underestimate the true number.
And there’s more concerning findings: in the majority of countries where people were sentenced to death or executed, the trials did not meet international fair trial standards.
“In some, this involved the extraction of ‘confessions’ through torture or other duress including in China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.
“Foreign nationals were disproportionately affected by the use of the death penalty, particularly in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand.
People were executed or sentenced to death for a range of offences including adultery and sodomy in Iran, blasphemy in Pakistan, sorcery in Saudi Arabia, the trafficking of human bones in the Republic of Congo, and drug offences in more than 10 countries.
Methods of execution in 2011 included beheading, hanging, lethal injection and shooting.
Some 18,750 people remained under sentence of death at the end of 2011 and at least 676 people were executed worldwide.
“But these figures do not include the thousands of executions that Amnesty International believes were carried out in China, where the numbers are suppressed.
“Nor do they account for the probable extent of Iran’s use of the death penalty – Amnesty International has had credible reports of substantial numbers of executions not officially acknowledged,” says a statement by Amnesty.
With the exception of five new death sentences in Papua New Guinea, the Pacific region remained a death penalty-free area in 2011.
“Our message to the leaders of the isolated minority of countries that continue to execute is clear: you are out of step with the rest of the world on this issue and it is time you took steps to end this most cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment,” says Rebecca Emery, deputy director at Amnesty International.
No executions were recorded in Japan – for the first time in 19 years.
Yet Japan did impose the death penalty in 10 new cases last year and 130 people are known to have been on death row, including those with mental disabilities.
The newly-appointed Justice Minister, Toshio Ogawa, has publicly stated that he plans to begin using the death penalty.
One man at risk of being executed is Hakamada Iwao. Hakamada celebrated his 76th birthday on 10 March earlier this month and has been in detention for over 45 years and under sentence of death for over 43 years.
Hakamada was found guilty of the murder of the managing director of the factory where he worked, and the man’s wife and two children and sentenced to death in September, 1968.
During the trial he testified that police had beaten and threatened him to force him to sign a “confession” after being interrogated by police for 20 days, without a lawyer present.
“The Japanese Justice Ministry must introduce a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolition, encouraging national debate on the death penalty, they must also ensure that no block are put in place regarding his appeals for a retrial,” says Rebecca Emery.
However, there’s some hope.
In China, the government eliminated the death penalty for 13 mainly ‘white collar’ crimes, and measures were also put forward to the National People’s Congress to reduce the number of cases of torture in detention, strengthen the role of defence lawyers and ensure suspects in capital cases are represented by a lawyer.
In the USA, the number of executions and new death sentences dropped dramatically from a decade ago. Illinois became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty. A moratorium was announced in the state of Oregon. And victims of violent crimes spoke out against the death penalty
The US was once again the only executioner in the Americas. A total of 43 executions were recorded in 13 of the 34 states that retain the death penalty, a drop by a third since 2001, and 78 new death sentences were recorded in 2011, a decrease by half since 2001.
There were at least 22 executions in three countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.
Four countries – Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – accounted for 99% of all recorded executions in the Middle East and North Africa.
India, where capital punishment is used in the “rarest cases” as per a supreme court verdict, has not executed anyone since 2004.
India put on hold the execution of a prisoner, Balwant Singh Rajoana, earlier this month, based on a mercy petition to the president of the country. Rajoana was sentenced to death for his role in the 1995 murder of Punjab state’s Chief Minister Beant Singh, the BBC reported.