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Death penalty: capital executions down by a third worldwide. But China and Iran still top the list

The lowest figures in the past decade: in 2018 executioners took the lives of 690 people - down by 31% compared to 993 in 2017. At the end of 2018 142 States had abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Of these, 106 were absolute abolitionists. The first five States in terms of executions were China (several thousands), Iran (at least 253, although they fell by 50%), Saudi Arabia (149), Vietnam (85) and Iraq (at least 52). And more than 19.000 people are still on death row. The figures are contained in Amnesty International’s global report on death penalty

Executions dropped by a third worldwide, the lowest figure in the past decade: 690 capital executions were recorded in 2018, down by 31% compared to 2017 (993 executions). The good news is contained in Amnesty International’s Global Review on Death Penalty published today. Overall, 2018’s figures show that the death penalty is firmly in decline, and that effective steps are being taken across the world to end the use of this cruel and inhuman punishment. At the end of 2018, 106 countries had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes and 142 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Following a change to its anti-narcotics laws, executions in Iran – a country where the use of the death penalty is rife – fell by a staggering 50%. Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia also showed a significant reduction in the number they carried out. However, a counter-trend with increases in executions was recorded in Belarus, Japan, Singapore, South Sudan and the USA. Thailand carried out its first execution since 2009, while Sri Lanka’s President declared he would resume executions after more than 40 years, posting an advert seeking executioners.  In an unprecedented move, death penalty figures were made publicly available by authorities in Viet Nam, who reported that at least 85 executions took place in 2018. The world’s top five executing countries are China (1000s), Iran (at least 253), Saudi Arabia (149), Viet Nam (at least 85) and Iraq (at least 52). More than 19,000 people are still on death row worldwide.

Positive signs. Positive signs include a decision by Burkina Faso to abolish the death penalty for ordinary crimes in June. In February and July respectively, Gambia and Malaysia both declared an official moratorium on executions. In the US, the death penalty statute in the state of Washington was declared unconstitutional in October.

“The dramatic global fall in executions proves that even the most unlikely countries are starting to change their ways and realize the death penalty is not the answer,”

said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. During the United Nations General Assembly in December, 121 countries – an unprecedented number – voted to support a global moratorium on the death penalty. Only 35 states voted against it.
China remains world’s top executioner. In 2018 China remained the world’s top executioning country,  although official data on the use of the death penalty is classified as a state secret. Amnesty International believes thousands of people are sentenced to death and executed each year. Ho Duy Hai, convicted on charges of theft and murder after having been forced to “confess” to the crime through torture – according to his testimony – , was sentenced to death in 2008. The stress of a pending death sentence has had a hugely detrimental impact on his family. “It has been 11 years since he was arrested and our family was torn apart. I can no longer bear this pain. Just thinking about my son suffering behind bars hurts me so much. I would like the international community to help reunite my family. You are my only hope”, said his mother, Nguyen Thi Loan.
Still too many death sentences. Amnesty was also concerned about a sharp spike in the number of death sentences that were imposed in some countries over the course of 2018.

In Iraq, the number quadrupled from at least 65 in 2017, to at least 271 in 2018. In Egypt, the number of death sentences handed down rose by more than 75%,

from at least 402 in 2017, to at least 717 in 2018, due to the Egyptian authorities’ track record of handing out mass death sentences after grossly unfair trials often based on “confessions” obtained under torture and flawed police investigations. The execution of Noura Hussein, a young Sudanese woman sentenced to death in May 2018 for killing the man she was forced to marry as he tried to rape her, was overturned in Sudan. After global outrage, including major campaigning efforts from Amnesty International, the Court of Appeal quashed Noura’s death sentence and replaced it with five years’ imprisonment. “I was in absolute shock when the judge told me I had been sentenced to death – recalled Noura Hussein – I hadn’t done anything to deserve to die. I couldn’t believe the level of injustice ­– especially on women. I’d never imagined being executed before that moment. The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘How do people feel when they are executed? What do they do?’. My case was especially hard as at the time of sentencing, my family had disowned me. I was alone dealing with the shock.”

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