Secrecy surrounds death penalty
15 April 2008
The figures come from Amnesty International's yearly statistics, Death Sentences and Executions in 2007, issued on Tuesday, which say that at least 1,252 people were executed in 24 countries and at least 3,347 people were sentenced to death in 51 countries. Up to 27,500 people are estimated to be on death row across the world.
The figures also show an increase in executions in a number of countries. Iran executed at least 317 people, Saudi Arabia 143 and Pakistan 135 – in comparison to 177, 39 and 82 executions respectively in 2006.
Eighty-eight per cent of all known executions took place in five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the USA. Saudi Arabia had the highest number of executions per capita, followed by Iran and Libya. Amnesty International has been able to confirm at least 470 executions by China – the highest overall figure. However, the organization has said that the true figure for China is undoubtedly much higher.
China, which the report refers to as the world's top executioner, classifies the death penalty as a state secret. As the world and Olympic guests are left guessing, only the Chinese authorities know exactly how many people have been killed with state authorization.
"The secretive use of the death penalty must stop: the veil of secrecy surrounding the death penalty must be lifted. Many governments claim that executions take place with public support. People therefore have a right to know what is being done in their name," said Amnesty International.
During 2007, many countries continued to execute for crimes not commonly considered criminal, or after unfair procedures. Among them:
- Ja'Far Kiani, father of two, was stoned to death for adultery in Iran in July.
- A 75 year-old North Korean factory manager was shot by firing squad in October for failing to declare his family background, investing his own money in the factory, appointing his children as its managers and making international phone calls.
- Mustafa Ibrahim, an Egyptian national, was beheaded in Saudi Arabia in November for the practice of sorcery.
- Michael Richard was executed in Texas, USA, on 25 September after a state courthouse refused to stay open an extra 15 minutes to allow the filing of an appeal based on the constitutionality of lethal injections. Richard's attorneys had been unable to file the appeal on time because of computer problems; problems they had already brought to the court's attention. The US Supreme Court then refused to stop the execution. Earlier in the day, however, it had agreed in a Kentucky case to review the lethal injection issue, a decision that led to a de facto moratorium on all other lethal injection executions around the country. The Supreme Court's ruling is expected later this year.
Three countries – Iran, Saudia Arabia and Yemen – carried out executions for crimes committed by people younger than 18 years of age, against international law.
However, 2007 was also the year where there was good news about the death penalty. The United Nations General Assembly voted – by 104 to 54, with 29 abstentions – to end the use of the death penalty.
"The UN General Assembly took the historic decision to call on all countries around the world to stop executing people. That the resolution was adopted in December with such a clear majority shows the global abolition of the death penalty is possible," said Amnesty International.
"The taking of life by the state is one of the most drastic acts a government can undertake. We are urging all governments to follow the commitments made at the UN and abolish the death penalty once and for all."
Breakthrough UN resolution on global moratorium on executions (News, 15 November 2007)
Amnesty International's Death Penalty page