Global death sentences up 28% last year - new report

Nearly 2,500 death sentences in 55 countries, with ‘anti-terrorism’ crackdown in Nigeria and Egypt driving increase 
 
Recorded executions fell to 607, excluding China where ‘thousands’ are believed to have been executed
 
Britons Lindsey Sandiford and Mohammad Asghar among more than 19,000 people on death row
 
There was a 28% increase in the number of death sentences last year compared to the previous year, Amnesty International said today as it published its annual review of the death penalty worldwide. 
 
In 2014 at least 2,466 death sentences were handed down in 55 countries around the world, compared to 1,925 the year before - an increase largely driven by developments in Nigeria and Egypt, where hundreds were sentenced to death in both countries. Nigerian courts issued at least 659 death sentences, a jump of more than 500 compared to 2013, while Egyptian courts gave out at least 509 death sentences, 400 more than the year before. 
 
Amnesty calculates that at least 19,094 people were under a death sentence by the end of 2014.
 
The figures - contained in a new 76-page report Death Sentences and Executions in 2014 - also show that, excluding China where execution numbers are a state secret, at least 607 executions were known to have been carried out in 2014, compared to 778 in 2013, a drop of 22%. The other countries making up the world’s top five executioners in 2014 were Iran (289 executions officially announced, at least 454 others not acknowledged by the authorities), Saudi Arabia (at least 90), Iraq (at least 61) and the USA (35).
 
Overall executions were recorded in 22 countries last year, the same as in 2013, though some countries carried out executions for the first time in a number of years. 
 

Executions, methods and offences

Amnesty’s report shows that there were executions in the following countries in 2014: China (several thousand suspected), Iran (289+), Saudi Arabia (90+), Iraq (61+), USA (35), Sudan (23+), Yemen (22+), Egypt (15+), Somalia (14+), Jordan (11), Equatorial Guinea (9), Pakistan (7), Afghanistan (6), Taiwan (5), Belarus (3+), Vietnam (3+), Japan (3), Hamas authorities, Gaza (2+), Malaysia (2+), Singapore (2), UAE (1), and North Korea (unknown number). However, many countries do not release official information on their use of capital punishment and several countries are thought to have executed many more than the minimum figures compiled by Amnesty (indicated with a “+” symbol). 
 
The following methods of executions were used during 2014: beheading (Saudi Arabia), hanging (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Palestine, Singapore, Sudan), lethal injection (China, USA, Vietnam) and shooting (Belarus, China, Equatorial Guinea, North Korea, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Taiwan, UAE, Yemen). People faced the death penalty for a range of non-lethal crimes including robbery, drug-related crimes and economic offences, and some were even sentenced to death for acts such as “adultery”, “blasphemy” or “sorcery”, which Amnesty said should not be considered crimes at all. Many countries used vaguely-worded political “crimes” to put real or perceived dissidents to death.
 

Used in security and anti-terrorism cases

Amnesty’s report shows a disturbing trend of countries using capital punishment in state security cases, with China, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq all executing people accused of “terrorism” last year. Pakistan resumed executions in the wake of the Taliban attack on a Peshawar school, with seven people executed in December and the government saying it would put hundreds of people convicted on “terrorism”-related charges to death (there have been further executions in Pakistan in 2015). 
 
In China the authorities used the death penalty as a punitive tool in its so-called “Strike Hard” campaign against unrest in its Xinjiang region. At least 21 people were executed in cases related to separate Xinjiang attacks, while three people were condemned to death in a mass sentencing rally in a stadium in front of thousands of spectators. Meanwhile in countries including North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia, governments used the death penalty as a tool to suppress political dissent or as a supposed attempt to tackle crime rates. In December Jordan executed 11 people, ending an eight-year moratorium on executions, with the government saying it was to curb a surge in violent crime. Meanwhile, in Indonesia, the authorities announced plans to execute mainly drug traffickers to tackle a public safety “national emergency” - a threat it followed through on in 2015. 
 
Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said:
 
“In a year when abhorrent summary executions by armed groups were branded on the global consciousness like never before, it is appalling that governments are themselves resorting to more executions in a knee-jerk reaction to combat terrorism and crime.
 
“It is shameful that so many states around the world are essentially playing with people’s lives - putting people to death for ‘terrorism’ or to quell internal instability on the ill-conceived premise of deterrence.”
 

Two British nationals facing execution

British woman Lindsay Sandiford is under a death sentence in Indonesia following a 2013 drug trafficking conviction over cocaine found in the lining of her suitcase. Her death sentence has been upheld on appeal and she is at risk of execution this year. Six people have already been executed in Indonesia in 2015, with ten more at imminent risk. Meanwhile, Mohammad Asghar, a British national of Pakistani origin, is on death row in Pakistan after being convicted of blasphemy (a capital offence under Section 295-C of the country’s penal code) last year. Asghar was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in the UK in 2010 before moving to Pakistan, a diagnosis the Pakistani courts have refuted, saying he is “sane”. Last September a prison guard shot and wounded Asghar at the Adiala prison in the city of Rawalpindi, Punjab province, where he is detained. 
 

Positive developments

Despite serious setbacks during 2014, Amnesty’s report stresses that there has been a long-term decline in the number of countries using the death penalty over the past 20 years. Two decades ago, 37 countries carried out executions, compared to 22 last year. The overall number of recorded executions in 2014 decreased by 22% compared with 2013, with falls in the numbers in the Middle East region and in the USA (the only country in the Americas to still carry out executions). Madagascar adopted legislation to abolish the death penalty, with similar abolitionist bills underway in Benin, Chad, Fiji, Mongolia and Suriname.
 

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