Cheating the hangman

Do you remember the scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly* when Clint Eastwood shoots down his Mexican partner just at the moment the hangmans noose tightens around his neck? Clints the sharpshooter, and the two are working a scheme to increase the outlaws reward value and each time get him down from the hanging tree at the very last moment.

Clints a pretty good marksman. Hes about 200 metres away and cuts the rope with a single rifle shot. Hey, come on punk**, its not easy!

Ok, those of you used to my clunky openings will have guessed where this might be going. An Amnesty blog. A film about cheating the hangman. Yes, it can only be that Amnestys got its big survey of the global use of the death penalty out today. Here are the facts for 2007:

At least 1,252 people were executed (in 24 countries) last year

The big five were: China (470+), Iran (317+), Saudi Arabia (143+), Pakistan (135+), USA (42) the plus symbol is a warning, though: because of secrecy these are only minimum figures. China, for example, classifies information on the death penalty as a state secret.

At least 3,347 people were sentenced to death in over 50 countries

There are now up to 27,500 people on death row around the world

Read about some of this in the Independent and on BBC News Online. And get the full Amnesty story here including about how a man was publicly stoned to death for adultery in Iran, another was beheaded for sorcery in Saudi Arabia, and how the United States released its 124th innocent prisoner from death row since 1973 while recently going a record six months without an execution.

(Also, you might want to sign up for this event with the inspirational Billy Moore a man from Georgia, USA, who spent 17 years on death row. Hes been there and come back to tell the tale, and he's now president of an excellent campaign group called Deathwatch International. If youre in the London area on 25 April, dont miss it. Its free and there are still places left.)

So, ok, I dont think anyone is going to collapse with shock over their laptop to hear that Amnesty is against the death penalty in all circumstances. As I said in a note to some bloggers earlier today, the deliberate cruelty of the death penalty is about as relevant to modern justice as burning witches or heretics.

Read more about the United Nations initiative to get a worldwide halt on all executions around the world.

So, one man who really did cheat the hangman in the sense that he spent two decades on death row and had 13 execution dates and lived to see his freedom is Scotsman Kenny Richey, who was finally released and arrived back in Edinburgh a free man earlier this year. Hes going through a difficult time readjusting to his new life and I think he would appreciate any messages of support. Please send them to us (john.watson@amnesty.org.uk) and well pass them on. Thanks.

* By the way, Ill be expecting a comment from the Amnesty blogger in Belfast, given that hes a got a spaghetti western-style logo for his blog pic. Come on Patrick, you feelin lucky make my day ..

** I know Im mixing my Clint classics, but I couldnt resist it!

Adios amigos.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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