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Grim sentence: death penalty on the rise

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The number of people sentenced to death increased last year, says Amnesty International

The number of death sentences handed down throughout the globe is on the increase, a new report reveals.

Amnesty International says there was a 28% jump compared to the previous year.

In 2014 at least 2,466 death sentences were handed down in 55 countries, compared to 1,925 the year before – an increase largely driven by developments in Nigeria and Egypt, with hundreds of people were sentenced to death in both countries.

Nigerian courts issued at least 659 death sentences, a jump of more than 500 compared to 2013, while Egyptian courts handed out at least 509 death sentences, 400 more than the year before.

Amnesty calculates that at least 19,094 people were under a death sentence by the end of 2014.

It is appalling that governments are themselves resorting to more executions in a knee-jerk reaction to combat terrorism and crime

However, the figures – contained in a new report called Death Sentences and Executions in 2014 – also show a drop in the number of executions carried out.

At least 607 executions were known to have been carried out in 2014, compared to 778 in 2013, a drop of 22%.

Among the world’s top executioners in 2014 were Iran (289 executions officially announced, at least 454 others not acknowledged by the authorities), Saudi Arabia (at least 90), Iraq (at least 61) and the USA (35).

China is excluded from these figures as the number of executions remains a state secret.

Overall executions were recorded in 22 countries last year, the same as in 2013, though some countries carried out executions for the first time in a number of years.

Amnesty’s report shows a disturbing trend of countries using capital punishment in state security cases, with China, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq all executing people accused of “terrorism” last year.

Pakistan resumed executions in the wake of the Taliban attack on a Peshawar school, with seven people executed in December and the government saying it would put hundreds of people convicted on “terrorism”-related charges to death.

In China, the authorities used the death penalty as a punitive tool in its so-called “strike hard” campaign against unrest in the Xinjiang region.

At least 21 people were executed in cases related to separate Xinjiang attacks, while three people were condemned to death in a mass sentencing rally in a stadium in front of thousands of spectators.

Meanwhile, in countries including North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia, governments used the death penalty as a tool to suppress political dissent or as a supposed attempt to tackle crime rates.

In December, Jordan executed 11 people, ending an eight-year moratorium on executions, with the government saying it was to curb a surge in violent crime.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, the authorities announced plans to execute mainly drug traffickers to tackle a public safety “national emergency” - a threat it followed through on in 2015.

Amnesty International secretary general Salil Shetty said: “In a year when abhorrent summary executions by armed groups were branded on the global consciousness like never before, it is appalling that governments are themselves resorting to more executions in a knee-jerk reaction to combat terrorism and crime.

“It is shameful that so many states around the world are essentially playing with people’s lives - putting people to death for ‘terrorism’ or to quell internal instability on the ill-conceived premise of deterrence.”

Despite serious setbacks during 2014, Amnesty’s report stresses that there has been a long-term decline in the number of countries using the death penalty over the past 20 years.

Two decades ago, 37 countries carried out executions, compared to 22 last year.

The overall number of recorded executions in 2014 decreased by 22% compared with 2013, with falls in the numbers in the Middle East region and in the USA (the only country in the Americas to still carry out executions).

Madagascar adopted legislation to abolish the death penalty, with similar abolitionist bills underway in Benin, Chad, Fiji, Mongolia and Suriname.

The death penalty around the world

Amnesty’s report shows thatthere were executions in the following countries in 2014:

China (severalthousand suspected,Iran(289+), Saudi Arabia (90+), Iraq (61+), USA (35), Sudan(23+), Yemen (22+), Egypt (15+), Somalia (14+), Jordan (11), Equatorial Guinea(9), Pakistan (7), Afghanistan (6), Taiwan (5), Belarus (3+), Vietnam (3+),Japan (3), Hamasauthorities, Gaza (2+), Malaysia (2+), Singapore (2), UAE (1), and North Korea(unknown number).

However, many countries do not release officialinformation on their use of capital punishment and several countries arethought to have executed many more than the minimum figures compiled by Amnesty.

The following methods of executions were used during 2014:

Beheading (Saudi Arabia), hanging (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt,Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Palestine, Singapore, Sudan), lethal injection (China, USA, Vietnam) and shooting (Belarus, China, Equatorial Guinea, North Korea, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Taiwan, UAE, Yemen).

People faced the death penalty for a range of non-lethal crimes including robbery, drug-related crimes and economic offences, and some were even sentenced to death for acts such as “adultery”, “blasphemy” or “sorcery”, which Amnesty said should not be considered crimes at all. Many countries used vaguely-worded political “crimes” to put real or perceived dissidents to death.

Two British nationals, including a Scot, are currently on death row.

Mohammad Asghar (above), from Edinburgh, was given a death sentence in Pakistan after being convicted of blasphemy - a capital offence under the country’s penal code.

Asghar was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2010 before moving to Pakistan, a diagnosis the Pakistani courts have refuted, saying he is “sane”.

Last September a prison guard shot and wounded him at the Adiala prison in the city of Rawalpindi, Punjab province, where he is detained.

Lindsay Sandiford (above) is under a death sentence in Indonesia following a 2013 drug trafficking conviction over cocaine found in the lining of her suitcase.

Her death sentence has been upheld on appeal and she is at risk of execution this year.

Six people have already been executed in Indonesia in 2015, with ten more at imminent risk.