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Scotland: New report shows executions down, but 'disturbing revival' amongst minority of countries

The plight of death row Scot Kenny Richey was again highlighted by campaigners as new figures show 3,350 facing execution in the United States, amid a “disturbing revival of executions” in a number of other countries.

Publishing its annual report on the death penalty, the authoritative overview of capital punishment globally, Amnesty International highlighted the case of Kenny Richey, from Edinburgh, who has been on death row in Ohio for over 20 years. Like the 123 prisoners released from US death row institutions in the last 30 years after evidence of a miscarriage of justice emerged, there are serious concerns over the safety of Mr Richey’s conviction.

The number of people executed in 2006 fell compared to the previous year, revealed the report. At the same time there has been a “disturbing revival of executions” among a minority of countries. Amnesty International is calling for a halt to all executions and further death sentences and is launching its report in Italy, which has itself taken a lead in international calls for a global death penalty moratorium.

The report, “The death penalty worldwide: developments in 2006”, shows that at least 1,591 people were executed in 25 countries last year - the overwhelming majority in China (1,010), Iran (177), Pakistan (82), Iraq (65), Sudan (65) and the USA (53). These six countries alone accounted for 91% of all executions carried out in 2006.

Amnesty International’s report shows that particularly horrific executions in 2006 included that of a man in Somalia who was publicly stabbed to death after being hooded and tied to a stake, while a man was found to be still alive and moving by morgue staff after being hanged in Sri Lanka. In Japan a man was taken to the gallows in a wheelchair, and in Iran an 18-year-old’s execution was halted with the noose already around his neck after he played a flute as a last request (moving the victim’s family to spare his life). Also in Iran, two people (a man and a woman) were reportedly stoned to death. Iran also executed four child offenders (aged below 18 at the time of the offence), while Pakistan executed one.

For the previous year (2005) Amnesty International calculated that at least 2,148 people had been executed and 2006’s death toll therefore represents a year-on-year fall. However, the organisation cautions that the new report’s figures are minimum figures only, as countries like China refuse to publish official execution statistics and execute a far higher number of prisoners every year (China is thought to secretly execute 7,000-8,000 each year).

In 2006, 25 countries are known to have carried out executions (three more than the previous year) and Amnesty International is concerned that some countries are resorting to capital punishment despite a record of unfair trials and other human rights violations.

In particular, last year there were sharp rises in execution numbers in Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Pakistan. Iran’s executions virtually doubled (from 94 to 177), Iraq’s rose very sharply (from 3 to 65), as did Sudan’s (from zero to 65), while Pakistan’s nearly tripled (from 31 to 82). Meanwhile, some 3,866 people were sentenced to death in 57 countries in 2006, and the world’s overall “death row population” is now believed to comprise 24,000 prisoners, with over 7,000 awaiting execution in Pakistan alone - the largest number in any single country.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Last year saw a slight drop in execution numbers but it was another grim death toll around the world and we are particularly concerned about a disturbing ‘revival’ of executions in countries like Iraq, Sudan and Pakistan.

“Capital punishment is always cruel and unnecessary and doesn’t deter crime. Many of the thousands of prisoners awaiting execution around the world have also endured torture, unfair trials and the misery of the ‘half life’ of death row.

“We urgently need to see ‘death penalty governments’ issuing bans on all imminent executions, especially President Musharraf in Pakistan where a staggering 7,000 prisoners face execution.”

Up until November last year, one of Pakistan’s death row prisoners had been Mirza Tahir Hussain, a UK-Pakistani joint national from Leeds. Mr Hussain, 36, spent 18 years on death row, having been tried in both Pakistan’s religious and secular courts and twice acquitted of an alleged murder. Amnesty International was always concerned that his trials were unfair and his convictions unsafe.

Following a high-profile campaign by his brother Amjad, Mr Hussain’s death sentence was finally commuted and he was released in November. President Musharraf’s authorisation of the commutation followed interventions from Tony Blair, senior ministers and reportedly Prince Charles, who is said to have personally raised the case during an official visit to Pakistan last autumn.

Amjad Hussain said:

“It took nearly two decades to get my brother off death row in Pakistan - an incredibly draining time during which our family endured emotional agony.

“The fact that Mirza Tahir was always innocent shouldn’t detract from the fact that no-one should have to suffer the hell of death row.

“It’s time for Pakistan, with its bulging prisons and under-resourced legal system, to impose a full moratorium on all executions. Our family is grateful for President Musharraf’s action in my brother’s case, but what about the remaining 7,000 ‘death row families’ in Pakistan?”

Amnesty International’s report shows that another country with a high death row “population” is the USA, with some 3,350 prisoners (including 50 Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights) facing execution. These include Scotsman Kenny Richey, from Edinburgh, who has been on death row in Ohio for over 20 years. Like the 123 prisoners released from US death row institutions in the last 30 years after evidence of a miscarriage of justice emerged, there are serious concerns over the safety of Mr Richey’s conviction.

While Amnesty International is warning of the death penalty’s revival in certain countries, the organisation’s report also notes that the underlying global trend is towards less frequent usage and lower numbers of death sentences being imposed. In 2006 the Philippines become the 128th country in the world to have abolished the death penalty in law or practice, and while 69 countries still retain the punishment less than half that number are currently carrying out executions. In the last 10 years alone, 30 countries have abolished the death penalty.

In China, where the vast majority of executions take place, new safeguards were introduced on 1 January, meaning that all death sentences must now be approved by China’s Supreme People’s Court. Last month a Chinese delegate also told the United Nations that he thought “the application of the death penalty will be further reduced and it will finally be abolished” in China.

Similarly, last month Iraq’s human rights minister told the same UN meeting that Iraq was “moving toward abolition”. Yet, as Amnesty International has shown in a separate report published a week ago, Iraq executed at least 65 prisoners last year, making it the joint-fourth highest user of capital punishment in the world. Amnesty International is strongly urging both the Iraqi and Chinese governments to back their recent promises to abolish the death penalty with concrete actions to do so.

Executions in 2006:

China: 1,010+
Iran: 177
Pakistan: 82
Iraq: 65+
Sudan: 65+
USA: 53
Saudi Arabia: 39+
Yemen: 30+
Vietnam: 14
Kuwait: 10+
Somalia: 7+
Singapore: 5+
Egypt: 4+
Jordan: 4+
Japan: 4
Malaysia: 4
Indonesia: 3+
Bahrain: 3
Mongolia: 3
North Korea: 2
Syria: 2
Uganda: 2
Bangladesh: 1
Botswana: 1
Equatorial Guinea: 1

Note: “+” symbol indicates that the figure is a minimum one; the true figure may be higher due to state secrecy or a lack of available information

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