Annual death penalty report reveals 20,000 on death row worldwide
Execution numbers down in 2005, trend toward abolition continues
There are around 20,000 prisoners on death row around the world, said Amnesty International today (20 April), as it released its annual report on the global death penalty.
The report, The death penalty worldwide: developments in 2005, also shows that at least 2,148 people were executed last year - the vast majority in China (1,770), Iran (94), Saudi Arabia (86) and the USA (60). These four countries alone accounted for 94% of executions recorded during 2005. The figure for the preceding year (2004) was 3,797 executions, indicating that last year saw a substantial drop in recorded executions as well as a fall in the number of countries carrying out executions (22, down from 25). The number of countries carrying out executions has halved in the last 20 years and has dropped for the fourth consecutive year.
Amnesty International’s report however cautions that these figures are minimum figures only, as countries like China refuse to publish full official statistics on executions. Vietnam, for instance, has made death penalty information a “state secret”.
A Chinese legal expert has estimated that China actually executes about 8,000 people every year, while a Chinese state official said in 2004 that “nearly 10,000” people are executed in China each year. A person in China can be sentenced to death for 68 different crimes, including non-violent ones like tax fraud, embezzlement and drugs offences.
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“It is an affront to human rights that in 2006 20,000 prisoners are currently on death row waiting to be taken out and killed by their governments.
“The death penalty is cruel and unnecessary, does not deter crime and often comes after torture, false “confessions” and deeply unfair trials.
“It is particularly disturbing that China is executing thousands of people every year (more than all other countries combined) - not least because China’s legal system is deeply flawed. We need to ramp up international pressure on the Chinese authorities for executions to end.”
One of the world’s 20,000 death row prisoners is Kenny Richey, a Scotsman from Edinburgh, who was convicted in 1987 of murder and arson in Ohio, USA. Mr Richey has always protested his innocence, turning down a plea-bargain deal that would have seen him avoiding a death sentence.
His case is currently being considered by an appeal court in Ohio, as Mr Richey seeks to have fresh evidence heard by the courts. Speaking about his predicament last year, Kenny Richey said: “It’s a 24-hour-a-day torture. You have no life. You’re just existing from one day to the next. Believe me, it’s an ... existence you don’t want.”
Amnesty International’s report shows that in 2005 two prisoners were released from death row in the USA after evidence of their innocence emerged. This brought the number of such “exonerees” in the USA since 1973 to 122, more than a tenth of the number executed in that time. Amnesty International continues to warn of the danger of executing wrongly convicted prisoners as well as pressing for the abolition of the death penalty in all cases – whether guilty or not.
The death penalty worldwide also shows that Iran was the only country in the world in 2005 to execute child offenders (those convicted of committing crimes when aged below 18). Despite promises to halt child offender executions (banned under international law), Iran allowed eight to go ahead last year - two involving prisoners still aged below 18 at the time of their execution.
Meanwhile in the USA the Supreme Court ruled last year that the use of the death penalty against child offenders contravened the US Constitutional ban on “cruel and unusual punishments”. The decision meant that the lives of over 70 child offenders on US death rows were spared and that no others would be sentenced to death.
Death row cases
Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, 19, a Nigerian citizen, and Okele Nelson Malachy, 33, reportedly a South African, currently face execution in Singapore. Mandatory death sentences have been imposed on the men after they were arrested for heroin trafficking in 2004. They lost appeals on 16 March and their final recourse is now presidential clemency. Singapore has a mandatory death sentence for at least 20 drugs offences. More than 420 people have been executed in Singapore since 1991 and the per capita execution rate is believed to be the world’s highest.
DD Ranjith de Silva, EJ Victor Corea and Sanath Pushpakumara, all Sri Lankans, currently face execution in Saudi Arabia. The three were reportedly arrested in March 2004 in connection with a series of armed robberies. They were sentenced to death in October 2004 and remain on death row in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia applies the death penalty for a wide range of offences. Court proceedings in the country fall far short of international fair trials standards and are held in secret. Defendants do not have the right to formal representation by a lawyer. Convictions may be solely on the basis of “confessions” obtained under torture.
Executions in 2005
Saudi Arabia: 86+
Palestinian Authority: 5
North Korea: 1+
Note: “+” symbol indicates that the figure is a minimum one; the true figure may be higher but information was limited