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Amnesty’s report on death penalty shows surge in executions

27 March 2014

Surge in executions revealed worldwide in Amnesty’s latest report on the death penalty

Amnesty International’s annual report on the use of the death penalty has revealed a surge in the number of executions worldwide, with 778 executions known to have been carried out in 2013, compared to 682 in 2012.

The report was released just days after the biggest mass execution ruling in living memory was given out by an Egyptian court, in what Amnesty International has called a sham trial. 529 supporters of ousted President Morsi were sentenced to death for their part in a riot that killed a policeman.

“This trial showed everything that is wrong with the death penalty”, said Amnesty International New Zealand’s Executive Director Grant Bayldon. “The trial was a sham with the ruling made after just 45 minutes, and defence lawyers were banned from the final proceedings. In addition to the legal rules that were broken, it defies logic to think that over 500 people could be given a fair trial in just two days.”

Asia

Closer to home, Amnesty International’s annual report has revealed a disturbing amount of death penalty secrecy in Asia in 2013. Authorities of several countries, including China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and Viet Nam flaunted international standards on transparency, refusing to release figures or inform family members, lawyers or the general public about executions.

“The shroud of secrecy around executions in Asia is deeply worrying and flies in the face of international standards. It raises the question – what are these governments trying to hide?” said Grant Bayldon.

“The world is moving towards abolition of the death penalty while many Asian countries try to swim against the tide and hide their state-sanctioned killings.”

Ten countries in Asia carried out executions in 2013, two more than the year before. Both Indonesia and Viet Nam resumed executions last year after long periods without implementing death sentences.

At least 37 executions were carried out across the region in 2013, one less than in 2012. However these numbers do not include China, where Amnesty International believes thousands were executed – more than the rest of the world put together. “Without a doubt, New Zealand’s biggest trading partner remains the world’s biggest executioner,” said Bayldon.

But with China’s executions still treated as a state secret the correct figure is impossible to determine.

It was also impossible to confirm any figures for secretive North Korea, although credible reports that could not be independently verified indicated that at least 70 people may have been executed in 2013.

Indonesia resumed executions for the first time in four years in March, when a Malawi national convicted of drug trafficking was executed by firing squad. Four more people were executed during the year, and the government made worrying statements hinting at plans to increase use of the death penalty.

The executions were carried out in near total secrecy.

“Indonesia took a serious step backwards on human rights last year by resuming executions. Jakarta has the potential to be a real leader on rights in South East Asia, making this regressive move all the more disappointing,” said Bayldon.

“If this was a populist ploy by the government to shore up support, it is a shocking way to play with people’s lives.”

Viet Nam, another country that treats the death penalty as a state secret, executed seven people by lethal injection during 2013, the first executions in the country for some 18 months. In 2012, Viet Nam struggled to carry out any executions due to an EU export ban on the drugs needed for lethal injections, and the government last year indicated that it might revert to using firing squads in the future.

Secrecy around executions was evident in several other Asia Pacific countries. In India the only execution in 2013 - of a man convicted in relation to a 2002 terror attack on the Indian parliament - was carried out without any prior notification and despite serious concerns about the fairness of the trial.

Governments in Japan and Malaysia continued their refusal to inform the public before executions. In Japan, death row prisoners were once again left to wonder if each day would be their last.

“The brutality of the death penalty can best be seen in the case of Japan’s Iwao Hakamada, who has been on death row since 1968 – the world’s longest serving death row prisoner. He has developed mental illness as a result of the decades he has spent in isolation. A decision on a retrial – based on 130 pieces of new evidence - is due today,” says Bayldon.

Iwao was convicted after an unfair trial on the basis of a confession made under duress. One of his trial judges has since publicly come out, saying he believes Iwao innocent.

But despite the setbacks, 2013 also saw positive developments in Asia. In Pakistan, the new government suspended its application of the death penalty, after carrying out one execution in 2012.

For the second consecutive year, no death sentences were implemented in Singapore, where six people had their cases commuted following a review of the country’s mandatory death penalty laws in 2012.

Even China saw limited progress, as the Supreme Court strengthened some legal protections in death penalty cases, and the former Health Minister announced a plan to end the practice of organ harvesting from executed prisoners by mid-2014.
Pacific

Despite legislation being passed which threatens to increase the use of the death penalty, the Pacific remained the only region with a clean record, reporting no death sentences or executions in 2013.

Following highly publicised and brutal killings of women accused of sorcery, Papua New Guinea’s government adopted a new law on 28 May 2013 expanding the scope of the death penalty to include robbery and aggravated rape, even if the crime did not result in death.

Despite this, no new death sentences are known to have been imposed in Papua New Guinea in 2013, where 10 prisoners remained under sentence of death at the end of the year. No executions have been carried out since 1954.

Neither were any new death sentences imposed in Tonga, where the last execution was carried out in 1982. Tonga was reviewed under the regular human rights Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in January 2013. However, recommendations to take steps toward abolishing the death penalty were rejected by the government.

Background
Amnesty International today published its annual review of the death penalty worldwide, Death sentences and executions 2013.

According to the report, Iran’s and Iraq’s wide use of the death penalty caused a sharp global spike in the number of executions carried out in 2013, bucking the global trend towards abolition.

Excluding China, where the number of executions is kept secret, 778 executions were known to have been carried out in 2013, compared to 682 in 2012. After China, Iran (369 executions) and Iraq (169) are the biggest executioners, followed by Saudi Arabia (79) and the USA (39).

An animation based on the 2013 statistics in the report can be downloaded here: http://tinyurl.com/amnestydp2013

Iwao Hakamada
The decision on whether to grant Hakamada a retrial will be announced on 27 March at 10am (Japan time). If the retrial is granted, the prosecution will have until 31 March to file an appeal to the high court.

ENDS

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