Middle East executions spiked in 2011: Amnesty

Published Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sharp increases in the number of executions in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran led to an increase in capital punishment worldwide, an Amnesty International report said on Tuesday.

Confirmed executions in the Middle East rose by almost 50 percent last year to 558, the rights group said in an annual report on the death penalty.

This was due to four countries – Iraq (at least 68 executions), Iran (at least 360), Saudi Arabia (at least 82) and Yemen (at least 41) – which accounted for 99 per cent of all recorded executions in the region.

Other Arab states in the region continue to impose the death sentence, but have so far refrained from executions.

Amnesty said at least 676 people were executed in 20 countries worldwide in 2011 compared with 527 executions in 23 countries in 2010, a 28 percent increase.

The group said thousands of people were executed in China last year, more than the rest of the world put together, but did not publish statistics as China does not release reliable figures.

They also said the figures did not account for the probable extent of Iran’s use of the death penalty, adding that they had received "credible reports of substantial numbers of executions not officially acknowledged."

At least three people were executed in Iran for crimes that were committed when they were under 18 years of age, in violation of international law.

A further four unconfirmed executions of juvenile offenders were reported there, and one in Saudi Arabia.

"The vast majority of countries have moved away from using the death penalty," said Salil Shetty Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Our message to the leaders of the isolated minority of countries that continue to execute is clear: you are out of step with the rest of the world on this issue and it is time you took steps to end this most cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”

While only 10 percent of countries in the world carried out executions last year, the Middle East still lags behind the rest of the world on capital punishment.

Shetty said that when Amnesty was launched in 1961 only nine countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

"It's a very important success story," he told Reuters, adding that the downside was that "a few countries continue to practice it in large numbers."

People were executed or sentenced to death for a range of offenses including adultery and sodomy in Iran, blasphemy in Pakistan, sorcery in Saudi Arabia, the trafficking of human bones in the Republic of Congo, and drug offenses in more than 10 countries.

Methods of execution included beheading, hanging, lethal injection and shooting.

At least 1,923 people are known to have been sentenced to death in 63 countries in 2011, down from 2,024 in 2010, Amnesty's report said.

And at least 18,750 people were under sentence of death worldwide at the end of 2011, including 8,300 in Pakistan, it said.

The United States continued to sentence people to death, with 43 executions in 2011 down from 46 a year earlier.

It was again the only country in the Americas and the only member of the G8 group of leading economies to execute prisoners.

In the majority of countries where people were sentenced to death or executed, the trials did not meet international fair trial standards.

In some, this involved the extraction of confessions through torture or other duress including in China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia, Amnesty said.

(Al-Akhbar, Reuters)

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