Viet Nam: Urgent Amnesty appeal to halt 117 executions that could take place tomorrow

Responding to the news that some 117 death row prisoners in Viet Nam face imminent execution when a change in the law comes into effect tomorrow, Amnesty International urged the government to reconsider their strategy and said ‘introducing new laws to allow a mass cull of people is barbaric beyond words’.

The 117 death row prisoners are known to have exhausted their appeals and so could be executed from the 27 June, when a change to the law allows prisoners to be executed by lethal injection using drugs produced in Viet Nam.

The authorities in Viet Nam amended the law in June 2010, to change the method of execution from firing squad to lethal injection, on the grounds that it was more humane. However, a shortage of drugs for use in lethal injections has meant that no executions have been carried out since January 2012. The courts, though, have continued to impose death sentences and there is now a significant backlog.

The Minister of Public Security has said that the 117 death row prisoners will be executed immediately, using drugs manufactured in Viet Nam.

Kim Manning Cooper, Death Penalty Campaigner for Amnesty International UK said:

“There is a chilling, calculating nature to the way in which a new law has been introduced so that people can be killed to get rid of a backlog of cases.

“Introducing new laws to allow a mass cull of people is barbaric beyond words.

“We are asking people everywhere to speak out against these impending executions and to urgently try and apply pressure on the government to halt this decision.

“We oppose the death penalty in all cases as the ultimate cruelty. No method of execution is humane and no justification for execution is valid. Especially not overcrowded prisons.”

Viet Nam’s National Assembly held discussions in November 2012 over how to resolve the situation of an increasing number of prisoners awaiting execution. It was claimed that this was causing overcrowding in difficult prison conditions, with three prisoners having committed suicide and others allegedly requesting that they be executed soon. Some National Assembly members advocated returning to using the firing squad.

The shortage of lethal injection drugs followed changes made in 2011 to EU regulations on trade in equipment and substances which can be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, adding barbiturate anaesthetic agents to the list of articles requiring an export authorisation.

The Viet Nam authorities changed the law last month so that, as of 27 June, drugs sourced from outside the EU or manufactured in-country could be used in lethal injections.

Viet Nam retains the death penalty for 21 offences, including violent crimes, national security offences, drug trafficking and embezzlement. In 2012, more than 86 death sentences were imposed, two of them for embezzlement.

Statistics on the death penalty have been classified as a “state secret”, but in January during the discussions on how to resume executions government officials publicly stated that the number of prisoners under sentence of death was higher than 530.

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