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Reporting on the death penalty: executions in 2012

Executions in 2012
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The executions we can't record

These figures are the minimum number of recorded and verified judicial executions for 2012. The unrecorded picture is even more shocking.

We believe that China executes more individuals than the rest of the world combined. But executions are deemed to be a state secret, and the lack of credible data available makes it impossible for us to accurately chart even a minimum estimate of individuals executed by the state; for this reason we stopped publishing estimates on use of the death penalty in China in 2009. The evidence that we do have suggests that many more than the 682 executions around the world that we have recorded and verified in 2012 have been carried out by the Chinese state. We suspect the figures to be in the thousands, making China far and away the most ruthless executioner state in 2012.

Our records do not account for executions in Syria, as continuing conflict prevented accurate reports. We can’t be sure whether judicial executions took place or not – none could be confirmed. We have documented extra-judicial executions by both Government and Opposition forces during 2012: such killings constitute war crimes.

And there is more missing data. No executions were reported in Egypt in 2012, but we can’t be sure that this is accurate. As with China, information around the use of the death penalty in Belarus, Mongolia and Vietnam is regarded as a state secret, and difficult to investigate or verify. In addition, political turmoil in Belize, Eritrea, Libya, Malaysia, North Korea and Suriname meant that we had little or no access to information on executions. We have credible reports of additional large numbers of executions in Iran that haven’t been confirmed by officials there, and cannot be counted in this report.

Five countries executed beyond all others

A small minority of states account for most executions.

82% of confirmed executions in 2012 took place in just four countries:

  • Iran – 314
  • Iraq – 129
  • Saudi Arabia – 79
  • USA – 43

And of course China executes more than any state, but we don’t know the numbers.

Five countries restarted executions

Gambia, Japan, Botswana, India and Pakistan chose to buck international trend and resume executing.

After 30 years of no executions, Gambia made a disturbing move away from being abolitionist in practice, and suddenly executed nine prisoners.

During the Eid-al-Fitr feast in August, President Yahya Jammeh announced in a televised address to the nation that all existing death sentences would be ‘carried out to the letter’. On the evening of 23 August, eight men and a woman were taken from their prison cells with no notice, lined up and executed by firing squad. The secret shootings were made all the more shocking by the lack of any advance warning or information to the prisoners, their families or their lawyers; two of the prisoners had potential legal appeals pending when they were executed. The nine bodies were buried in secret, none of their corpses returned to their families.

We encouraged supporters to email President Jammeh’s office, asking him not to sign any more execution warrants. There have been no more executions since August, but we remain concerned for the estimated 38 prisoners currently on Gambia’s death row.

Japan also took worrying steps backwards after 20 months of no executions when three men were hanged in March 2012. Another four prisoners would be hanged during the year, including Sachiko Eto, the first woman to be executed in Japan for 15 years.

In December, the Liberal Democratic assumed power, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This is not the first time Shinzo Abe has been Prime Minister – he held the role from September 2006 for nearly a year. During that time, he oversaw ten executions – the highest number under any Liberal Democratic Party rule. Meanwhile, Japan’s current Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki has publically stated that he's in favour of using the death penalty.

After refraining from executing the year before, Botswana hanged two men in 2012. The bodies have never been returned to the families; their whereabouts are not known.

India last executed in 2004 – until November 2012, when Pakistani national Ajmal Kasab was hanged for his involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The Indian government violated international standards by announcing Kasab’s execution only after it had happened; the Home Minister stated that they had done so to avoid any interference from human rights activists.

Pakistan, too, executed a prisoner for what it claimed was a military (rather than ordinary) crime, for murders within the armed forces.

There’s one executioner left in Europe

Belarus is the only European country that continues to use the death penalty. In 2012 the government executed at least three men, including Uladzslau Kavalyou and Dzimitry Kanavalau in March. Uladzslau and Dzimitry were allegedly involved in a series of bomb attacks in the country the year before. Their death sentences had been imposed after unfair trials.

Both Uladzslau and Dzimitry were sentenced to death by the Supreme Court. This meant that they were unable to appeal their sentences – a violation of international law. The Belurussian President denied requests for clemency; previously, before his police had even questioned the two men, the President had claimed both had confessed to being involved in the attack. When they were later questioned, it was claimed that this was under duress – both said they were beaten. Uladszlau later retracted his statement. A few months on, his mother and sister received a letter informing them that Uladszlau had been executed by being shot in the back of the head. In Belarus, prisoners are notified of their execution hours or even minutes before it happens. The whole process is shrouded in secret. Their families are notified of their relatives’ execution days or months after it’s happened.

What can we do about it?

At Amnesty, we’re working relentlessly to stop any executions. We work with governments to show them that removing capital punishment from their legal system is the right thing to do.

But there are people behind these figures, and we campaign on cases of individuals sentenced to death, especially those facing imminent execution – wherever and whenever our support is most useful.

Find out where your support is needed – search our current online actions

Amnesty report - Death sentences and executions 2012