13 Luglio 2020 :
THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTS OF 2018
THE SITUATION TODAY
Developments on the Death Penalty Worldwide
The worldwide trend towards abolition, under-way for twenty years, was confirmed in 2018.
There are currently 165 countries and territories that, to different extents, have decided to renounce to the death penalty. Of these: 106 are totally abolitionist; 8 are abolitionist for ordinary crimes; 6 have a moratorium on executions in place and 45 are de facto abolitionist (i.e. countries that have not carried out any executions for at least 10 years, or countries which have binding obligations not to use the death penalty).
Countries retaining the death penalty worldwide have gradually declined over the last ten years: in 2018 there were 33 retentionist countries, compared to 36 in 2017, 38 in 2016 and 51 in 2007.
In 2018, executions were carried out in 20 countries and territories, compared to 23 in 2017.
In 2018, there were at least 2,759 executions, compared to at least 3,120 in 2017.
In 2018, there were no recorded executions in 7 countries where executions were carried out in 2017: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Palestine and United Arab Emirates.
On the other hand, 4 countries, which had not carried out executions in 2017, resumed them in 2018: Botswana (2), Sudan (2), Thailand (1), Taiwan (1).
It could not be confirmed if judicial executions took place in Syria in 2018.
Once again, Asia tops the standings as the region where the vast majority of executions are carried out. Taking the estimated number of executions in China to be at least 2,000, the total for 2018 corresponds to a minimum of 2,644 executions (95,8%), down from the 2017 number when there were at least 3,036 (97%).
In the Americas, the United States was the only country to carry out executions in 2018 (25).
In the 13 Caribbean countries, only Guyana imposed the death penalty in 2018, while death rows of 9 countries in the area were still empty at the end of the year.
In Africa, in 2018, the death penalty was carried out in 5 countries (2 more than in 2017), but there were at least 86 executions, a sharp increase compared to 59 in 2017: Egypt (at least 62), Somalia (13), South Sudan (at least 7) and Botswana (2).
In Europe, the only blemish on an otherwise completely death penalty-free zone continues to be Belarus, a country that has continued to execute its citizens regularly. In 2018 at least 4 executions have been recorded, while 2 were recorded in 2017. With the exception of Russia where a moratorium on executions is still in effect since 1996, all other European countries have abolished the death penalty in all circumstances.
The Seventh UN Resolution for a Universal Moratorium on Executions
On 17 December 2018, the UN General Assembly adopted – with record-high support – its seventh resolution since 2007 calling for a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. The new resolution, co-sponsored by 83 UN member States, was adopted with 121 votes in favour (4 more than in 2016), 35 votes against (5 less than in 2016) and 32 abstentions (1 more than 2016), while 5 were absent at the time of vote (as in 2016).
For the first time, Dominica, Libya, Malaysia and Pakistan changed their vote to support the resolution, while Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana and South Sudan moved from opposition to abstention. Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Mauritius, Niger and Rwanda once again voted in favour of the call for a moratorium on executions, having not done so in 2016. Five countries reversed their 2016 votes, however, with Nauru moving from voting in favour to voting against and Bahrain and Zimbabwe switching from abstention to opposition. Congo (Republic of ) and Guinea changed from voting in favour to abstention.
The seventh UN Resolution contains some very positive and important amendments compared to the text of 2016, which increase its value. In particular, the resolution states the need to: ensure that a death sentence is never decided in a discriminatory manner; provide mandatory legal aid for those charged with capital offences; call on governments to abolish the mandatory application of the death penalty from their national legal systems.
The information contained in this report is the result of daily monitoring of news and developments concerning the death penalty worldwide. It offers a comprehensive overview of relevant events that took place in 2018. All information contained in this report, including sources, dates of reports and more is available on Hands off Cain’s online death penalty news database at www.handsoffcain.info
THE DEATH PENALTY IN ILLIBERAL COUNTRIES: CHINA, IRAN AND SAUDI ARABIA
TOP EXECUTIONERS FOR 2018
Of the 33 countries worldwide that retain the death penalty, 28 are dictatorial, authoritarian or partly free States. Sixteen of these countries were responsible for at least 2,716 executions in 2018, 98.4% of the world total.
China alone carried out at least 2,000 executions, about 72.5% of the world total; Iran put at least 310 people to death; Saudi Arabia 142; Vietnam at least 85; Egypt at least 62; Iraq at least 52; Pakistan at least 14; Somalia 13; Singapore 13; South Sudan at least 7; Yemen at least 5; Belarus at least 4; North Korea at least 3; Afghanistan 3; Sudan 2; Thailand 1.
It could not be confirmed if judicial executions took place in Syria in 2018.
Many of these countries do not issue official statistics on the practice of the death penalty, therefore the number of executions may, in fact, be much higher.
This is the prevalent situation worldwide concerning the practice of the death penalty. It points to the fact that the fight against the death penalty entails, beyond stopping executions, a battle for transparency of information concerning capital punishment, for democracy, for respect of the rule of law and for political rights and civil liberties.
The terrible podium of the world’s top executioners in 2018 is composed by three authoritarian States, the same as in 2017: China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
China: officially the world’s record-holder for executions
(despite a continued reduction)
China executes more people every year than the rest of the world combined, although the exact figure is not published and considered a State secret.
In 2016, the country carried out about 2,000 death sentences, according to estimates by the Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights NGO based in the United States of America. It is likely that the same number of executions, about 2,000, was recorded in 2017 and 2018. This number of executions represents a drop of 30 % from 2012, when Dui Hua estimated that China executed 3,000 people, and a precipitous drop from 6,500 executions in 2007 and 12,000 in 2002.
Iran: decrease in the number of executions
At least 3,598 prisoners have been executed in Iran since the beginning of Rouhani’s presidency (between 1 July 2013 and 31 December 2018). From 1 July 2013 to 31 December 2013, there were at least 444 executions; in 2014 there were at least 800 executions; at least 970 executions in 2015; at least 530 executions in 2016; at least 544 executions in 2017 and at least 310 in 2018.
While the number of executions is lower than previous years, the country continues to record the highest number of per capita executions in the world also in 2018.
Of the 310 executions of 2018, only 85 cases (27%) were reported by official Iranian sources (websites of the Iranian Judiciary, national Iranian broadcasting network, and official or State-run news agencies and newspapers); 225 other cases (73%) included in the annual numbers were reported by unofficial sources (other human rights NGOs or sources inside Iran). The actual number of executions is probably higher than the figures included in the Annual Report of Hands Off Cain.
Hanging is the preferred method by which Sharia is applied in Iran.
Public executions by hanging continued into 2018. At least 13 people were hanged in public in 2018 according to official sources consulted by Hands off Cain, a lower number compared to 36 in 2017.
In 2018, there were at least 5 executions of women (compared to 12 in 2017), of which 1 reported by official sources and all for murder. Two of them were juveniles at the moment of fact. The Iranian regime hanged at least 17 women in 2019. Another two women were executed in January 2020, bringing the total number of women executed under the Hassan Rouhani presidency to 106.
Executions of child offenders continued into 2018, in open violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ( CRC), to which Iran is party. At least 7 juvenile offenders were hanged in 2018, including 2 women and at least one case was reported by official sources. All were executed for murder.
The Iranian regime hanged at least 8 juvenile offenders in 2019.
In 2018, Saudi Arabia executed at least 142 people.
Among those executed, 3 were women and 139 men; 73 were Saudi Arabian citizens and 69 were foreign nationals, including the three women (a 30% increase compared to at least 53 foreigners executed in 2017). Most of the men have been executed for murder (82), followed by drug related crimes (57), terrorism (1), rape (1), and 1 for armed robbery.
In 2019, Saudi Arabia executed 184 people, a record number in the last six years, according to human rights organisation Reprieve.
DEMOCRACY AND THE DEATH PENALTY
Of the 33 retentionist countries, only 5 are considered liberal democracies.
This definition, as used here, takes into account the country’s political system and its respect towards human rights, civil and political liberties, free market practices and the rule of law.
There were only 4 liberal democracies that carried out executions in 2018, and they accounted for 43 executions between them, 1.6% of the world tally. These were: United States of America (25), Japan (15), Botswana (2) and Taiwan (1).
Executions in liberal democracies declined sharply in 2019. There were a total of 26 in 3 countries: United States (22), Japan (3) and Botswana (1).
ABOLITION, DE FACTO ABOLITION AND MORATORIUMS
In 2018, 4 States strengthen the list of abolitionist countries: Burkina Faso, Gambia, Malaysia and Saint Kitts and Nevis.
In the United States, another 6 States have recently moved, de jure or de facto, to the abolitionist front.
In 2018, significant political and legislative steps towards abolition or a de facto moratorium on capital punishment have been seen in many countries, both internally and in international fora. In some countries laws have been proposed or adopted to abolish the death penalty or reduce the number of capital crimes. Other countries have confirmed their policy of de facto moratorium on the death penalty or executions in place for many years. In many states in the Caribbean region, no new death sentences were imposed and death rows were still empty at the end of 2018. Collective commutations of death sentences by the President or the indefinite suspension of executions were granted in many other countries.
In Afghanistan on 14 February 2018, the new Penal Code, which reduced the scope of the death penalty from 54 to 14 offences, entered into force.
In Palestine on 6 June 2018, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, signed the accession of the State of Palestine to 7 international conventions and treaties, including the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
On 18 March 2019, the State of Palestine deposited the instrument of accession to the Second Protocol, which means that: the Protocol shall enter into force on 18 June 2019; Palestine must now amend its criminal law to remove the capital punishment; it is impossible to withdraw from the Protocol, thus making abolition of the death penalty irreversible.
In 2017 there was no new death sentence in South Korea. The only death sentence imposed in 2018 on a man convicted of murder was later commuted to life imprisonment by the Seoul High Court on appeal. On 19 June 2018, the presidential office said it would review a moratorium on the nation’s death penalty system if the state human rights watchdog – the National Human Rights Commission – officially made a request. The presidential office said the matter had not been discussed yet and would be reviewed if officially requested.
In 2018, for the second consecutive year, no death sentence was recorded in Ethiopia.
In 2017, Ethiopia became a de facto abolitionist State, after 10 consecutive years without executions.
On 15 June 2018, the government released more than 304 prisoners, including 289 convicted on “terrorism” charges. Those pardoned include nine death row inmates.
In Malawi in 2018, as in 2017, no new death sentences were recorded and at the end of the year there were 15 death row inmates.
The Maldives did not sentence anyone to death in 2018 despite having done so for the previous year. According to Amnesty International, 15 people, including one woman, remained under sentence of death at the end of the year. Three men had exhausted their legal avenues. The last person to be executed in the Maldives after receiving a death sentence was in 1953 during the first Republic of President Mohamed Ameen.
On 27 November 2018, during the review of the Maldives before the UN Committee Against Torture, the newly inaugurated administration of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih committed to maintain the 65-year moratorium on the death penalty. The government also announced that the Maldives would vote in favour of the United Nations General Assembly resolution for the “Moratorium on the use of the death penalty”.
Since 1973, only two people were put to death in Morocco. In 2018, the courts imposed 10 death sentences. Amnesty International recorded 93 people as being under sentence of death at the end of the year. King Mohammed VI has not signed an execution Decree since he took the throne on 23 July 1999. Since then, many people on death row had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, a further sign towards the abolition of capital punishment in the country, a process which came to a halt after the attacks in Casablanca. The terrorist attacks in Casablanca, first in May 2003 and then in early 2007, led to resistance on the part of State authorities to continue the process of abolition of the death penalty under-way in the country. In 2018, King Mohammed VI granted five pardons for people sentenced to death.
Zambia has not executed anyone since 1997, thanks to a Presidential moratorium on executions that has been upheld by three consecutive Heads of State: Levy Mwanawasa, Rupiah Banda, and Michael Sata, who each personally opposed the death penalty. On 24 May 2018, on the eve of Africa Freedom Day, President Edgar Lungu pardoned 464 prisoners from various correctional facilities across the country, Minister of Home Affairs Stephen Kampyongo said. President Lungu pardoned 413 inmates as well as commuted sentences of 51 others who were on death row.
The latest execution in Zimbabwe dates back to July 2005. Since gaining independence from Britain in 1980, according to official figures, 79 people were executed in Zimbabwe. In 2018, at least 5 new death sentences were imposed in Zimbabwe. At the end of the year, there were at least 81 prisoners on death row.
At the end of 2017, President Robert Mugabe was deposed after 37 years of ruinous rule, and replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who promised “a new democracy”.
On 21 March 2018, President Mnangagwa effectively commuted death row inmates’ sentences to life‚ as part of a presidential pardon to 3‚000 inmates in overcrowded Zimbabwean prisons. Commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment were granted to all prisoners who have been on death row for ten years and above. At least 16 inmates sentenced to death have thus escaped the hangman’s noose.
In 2018, other significant steps towards restricting the use of the death penalty were taken in the Caribbean Region.
In 9 countries – Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Guatemala, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Lucia – no new death sentences were imposed and death rows were still empty at the end of 2018.
On 21 February 2018, the Government of Benin commuted the death sentence of all 14 men on death row to life imprisonment. This came after the 2016 Constitutional Court’s decision to abolish the death penalty for all crimes after the entry into force in July 2012 of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
In 2018, no executions were carried out in Nigeria. At the end of the year, the number of detainees awaiting execution had exceeded 2,200, including at least 46 sentenced to death in 2018. Using powers under Section 212 of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution (as amended), state governors commuted 35 death sentences to life imprisonment and pardoned 16 inmates on death row.
In India, trial courts delivered 102 death sentences in 2019, over 60% fewer than the 162 death sentences passed in 2018, according to “The Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistics”, published by Project 39A at the National Law University (NLU), Delhi.
The courts were, however, especially unforgiving of murders that involved sexual violence – the proportion of death sentences imposed for murders involving sexual offences was at a four-year high in 2019 at 52.94% (54 out of 102 sentences). According to statistics, death sentences are often overturned or commuted to life imprisonment by higher Courts. 2019 also saw the highest number of confirmations by High Courts in four years; 17 out of the 26 confirmations (65.38%) were in offences of murder involving sexual violence.
According to the report by the National Law University, Delhi, trial courts pronounced 162 death sentences in 2018, the highest in a calendar year since 2000. In 2018, the Supreme Court commuted death sentences to life imprisonment in 11 of the 12 cases it heard. The only case where the death penalty was upheld was in the 2012 Delhi gang rape case.
REINTRODUCTION OF THE DEATH PENALTY AND RESUMPTION OF EXECUTIONS
In 2018, 4 countries resumed executions after not carrying any out in 2017: Botswana (2), Sudan (2), Taiwan (1), Thailand (1). A setback to the ongoing de facto moratorium on executions has been recorded in Sri Lanka.
A setback to the ongoing de facto moratorium on executions has been recorded in Sri Lanka on 10 July 2018, when the Cabinet unanimously approved a move to bring back capital punishment for drug-related crimes and President Maithripala Sirisena declared to be ready to sign warrants of executions for 19 drug traffickers.
THE DEATH PENALTY IN ISLAMIC COUNTRIES
Of the 47 Muslim-majority States or territories worldwide, 26 can be considered abolitionist in various forms, while 21 retain the death penalty, of which 17 look explicitly to Sharia law as the basis of their legal system. In some cases, these legal systems also stem from entrenched and overlapping sources, historical and modern, religious and secular. In other cases, the Islamic Sharia law remains the only source for legislation in the country.
In 2018, at least 603 executions, compared to at least 979 in 2017, were carried out in 9 Muslim-majority countries (they were 15 in 2017), many of which were ordered by religious Tribunals applying a strict interpretation of Sharia law.
Hanging, firing squad and beheading are the methods which were used to enforce the death penalty, while there were no reports of judicial executions carried out by stoning, which is the most terrible of all Islamic punishments.
In 2018, at least 443 hangings – compared to at least 808 in 2017, to at least 756 in 2016 and to at least 1,360 in 2015 – were carried out in 6 Muslim-majority countries: Iran (at least 310), Egypt (at least 62), Iraq (at least 52), Pakistan (at least 14), Afghanistan (3) and Sudan (2).
It could not be confirmed if executions by hanging took place in Syria in 2018.
Hanging is often carried out in public and combined with supplementary punishments such as flogging and the amputation of limbs before the actual execution.
Extra-judiciary executions by hanging were carried out in Afghanistan in the areas controlled by the Taliban.
In 2018, another 37 executions by hanging were carried out in 4 non-Muslim countries: Japan (15), Singapore (13), South Sudan (at least 7) and Botswana (2).
Hanging is often carried out by crane or low platforms to draw out the pain of death. The noose is made from heavy rope or steel wire and is placed around the neck in such a fashion as to crush the larynx, causing extreme pain and prolonging the death of the condemned. Hanging is often carried out in public and combined with supplementary punishments such as flogging and the amputation of limbs before the actual execution.
In 2018 the Islamic Republic carried out at least 310 hangings: 85 executions were announced by official Iranian sources, and 225 cases were reported by unofficial sources.
In 2018, Hands off Cain noticed 13 public hangings a decrease if compared to 36 in 2017.
Executions carried out in public must be added to the numerous ones, often shrouded in secrecy, carried out in prisons.
Most of them were carried out for murder, while in the previous years they were most for drug-related offences. However, the death penalty is not the only punishment dictated by the Iranian implementation of Sharia or Islamic law. There is also torture, amputation, flogging and other cruel, inhumane and degrading punishments. These are not isolated incidents and they occur in flagrant violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that Iran signed and which expressly prohibits such practices.
Hundreds are routinely flogged in Iran each year, sometimes in public. Under Iranian law, more than 100 “offences” are punishable by flogging. These cover a wide array of acts, ranging from theft, assault, vandalism, defamation and fraud to acts that should not be criminalized at all such as adultery, intimate relationships between unmarried men and women, “breach of public morals” and consensual same-sex sexual relations.
Many of those flogged in Iran are young people under the age of 35 who have been arrested for peaceful activities such as publicly eating during Ramadan, having relationships outside of marriage and attending mixed-gender parties.
According to information published in the 2018 Report of The International Observatory of Human Rights, in Iran in 2018 over 110 people were sentenced to flogging, and 11 of these sentences were carried out. Furthermore, at least one case of amputation has been reported.
In 2018, Egypt carried out at least 62 executions according to the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR). Of these, 47 have been decided by civic courts and 15 by military courts (12 for terrorism and 3 for a rape crime in a military hospital). Regarding the death sentences, in 2018, 60 persons have been condemned by the Cassation Court in 14 cases (12 cases in civic cassation court and 2 cases in military cassation court). During the year, at least 581 defendants were issued death sentences in 174 civilian cases and 9 military cases, according to a report issued on 22 December 2018 by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
A wave of executions at the beginning of the 2018 draw attention by international community.
On 2 January 2018, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated its shock at the 20 executions carried out between the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, and said that, despite the security challenges facing Egypt - in particular in Sinai - executions should not be used as a means to combat terrorism.
In 2018, Iraq executed at least 52 people, all for terrorism. The number is significantly lower if compared to 125 executions in 2017, and to 92 in 2016.
According to Amnesty International, death sentences more than quadrupled, from at least 52 in 2017 to at least 271 in 2018, mainly due to the conclusion of the conflict between the Iraqi state and the Islamic State (IS), following which the authorities arrested many individuals accused of affiliation with the group and put them on trial. The sentences were for offences that included mostly terrorism-related acts, in addition to murder, kidnapping and drug-related offences.
According to figures gathered by the organization Justice Project Pakistan, there were at least 14 executions in 2018. It is a significant decrease if compared to 66 hangings in 2017, to 87 in 2016 and to a record number of 326 in 2015 carried out after 17 December 2014, when Pakistan lifted the six-year moratorium on the death penalty in terrorism-related cases, a day after the Taliban-perpetrated massacre at a military-run school in Peshawar in which 150 people, including 134 children, were killed.
The at least 14 executions carried out in 2018 were for murder, also if in three cases death sentences were issued by Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC).
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, in 2018 Courts awarded the death sentence to 346 people, including 3 women.
According to the Justice Project Pakistan, 4,688 prisoners are on death row, which is one of the highest figures in the world; at least 42 are women.
In 2018, there were two hangings, the first since 2016. Two unidentified men were hanged for murder, one in May and the other in November.
Fewer death sentences (8) were imposed compared to 2017 (at least 17), said Amnesty International.
At the end of 2018, there were at least 109 prisoners on death row.
Not considered an Islamic punishment, the firing squad has been used in 2018 in at least 18 executions in 2 Muslim-majority countries: Somalia (13) and Yemen (at least 5).
It could not be confirmed if judicial executions by firing squad took place in Libya and Syria in 2018, due to the internal armed conflicts and the lack of official information provided by authorities. Extra-judiciary executions by shooting were carried out in Somalia by the Islamic rebels Al-Shabaab.
In 2018, at least 15 more executions by firing squad were carried out in 5 non-Muslim countries: China (number unknown); South Sudan (at least 7); Belarus (4); North Korea (at least 3); Taiwan (1).
The Penal Code of Somalia represents an amalgam of various legal systems and traditions, including civil law, Islamic law, and customary law, known as Xeer.
In April 2009, in an attempt at national reconciliation, the Somali Parliament unanimously approved a Government proposal to officially introduce Sharia law in the country.
In 2018, executions decreased to 13, from the at least 24 of 2017. All were inflicted by military courts, mainly on Al-Shabaab militants (9) for acts of and on soldiers (4) for ordinary murder.
In 2017 there were at least 24 executions, including 21 for terrorism.
In 2018, there were 24 death sentences, as in 2017 and in sharp decrease if compared to the 75 of 2016. All were issued by military courts, most of them on Al-Shabaab militants for terrorism (15) and the rest on soldier (9) for murder.
These death sentences were issued: 14 by the Federal Government, 7 in Puntland, 2 in Jubaland 1 in Bai and 1 in Hiran.
In 2018, 5 executions were carried out and 36 death sentences were handed down, all by Courts operating under Houthi control. Most of the death sentences were against alleged spies for the Saudi intelligence, the United States and Yemeni Government.
Since the country’s liberation from Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, no information is available on judicial executions in Libya.
On 15 August 2018, a Libyan criminal court sentenced 45 militiamen to death by firing squad for killing demonstrators in Tripoli in 2011. They are accused of opening fire on dozens as rebel forces closed in on the capital during the uprising against former leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. It is thought to be the highest
number of death sentences handed out since the overthrow of the regime.
Beheading as a “legal” means of carrying out executions provided by Sharia law is exclusive to Saudi Arabia, which beheaded 142 people in 2018.
In 2018, Saudi Arabia executed at least 142 people. Among those executed, 3 were women and 139 men; 73 were Saudi Arabian citizens and 69 were foreign nationals, including the three women. Most of them have been executed for murder (82), followed by drug related crimes (57), terrorism (1), rape (1), and 1 for armed robbery. In 2017, Saudi Arabia executed at least 140 people.
In 2019, Saudi Arabia executed 184 people, a record number in the last six years, according to human rights organisation Reprieve.
There are 17 countries in which stoning is either practised de facto or authorised by law. Stoning is a legal punishment for adultery in 11 countries: Brunei Darussalam, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria (in one-third of the country’s 36 States), Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. In some countries, such as Brunei Darussalam, Mauritania and Qatar, stoning has never been used although it remains legal.
In four of the remaining countries – Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali and Syria – stoning is not legal but tribal leaders, militants and others carry it out extra-judicially. In the Aceh region of Indonesia and Malaysia, stoning is sanctioned regionally but banned nationally.
In 2018, no “legal” stoning has been recorded.
However, in 2018, an extra-judicial sentence by stoning was carried out in Somalia by Al-Shabaab on 9 May 2018, when a woman accused of marrying 11 men was stoned to death.
In 2018, in Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, hundreds of murder convicts were spared after they were pardoned by the victims’ family members who accepted the blood money.
Iranian law provides that the “blood money” (Diya) for a woman is half that of a man. Furthermore, if a man kills a woman, a man cannot be executed, even if condemned to death, without the family of the woman first paying to the family of the murderer half the price of his blood money.
In 2018, at least 272 people on death row for murder were forgiven by the families of the victims, compared to 221 cases in 2017 and 232 in 2016, according to Iran Human Rights.
In 2018, at least 14 people were executed across the country and 346, including 3 women, new death sentences were issued. Dozens of death row inmates werespared after they were pardoned by the victims’ families.
In September 2011, Saudi Arabia decided to triple Diya, the money paid by a killer to the victim’s relatives under Islamic law, but kept the sum for female victims at half that for male victims. The Kingdom’s Supreme Judicial Authority raised Diya to 300,000 Riyals (80,000 USD) from 100,000 Riyals (26,666 USD) in accidental death and 400,000 Riyals (106,666 USD) in premeditated murder. Blood money values have been static for the last 29 years. The Supreme Council of Scholars had called for reviewing Diya in light of the increasing prices of camels, which were used as blood money in the old Islamic age. According to Sharia rules, the heirs of a murdered person should be compensated with 100 camels.
In Saudi Arabia, numerous cases involving “blood money” were resolved positively thanks to the Saudi Reconciliation Committee (SRC), a nation-wide organization established in 2008 that secures pardons for death row prisoners and helps settle lengthy inter-family and tribal disputes through mediation. Its mission is to prevent haggling by the families of the murder victims over blood money Diya.
Since its establishment in 2008, the Committee dealt with thousand cases involving convicted murderers who were sentenced to death and was able to secure pardons in hundreds of them.
United Arab Emirates
In June 2018, Dubai-based hotelier Dr SP Singh Oberoi saved 15 Indians, including 14 Punjabis, from the gallows in UAE. Till date, Dr. Oberoi has saved 93 Indians, mostly Punjabis, from the death sentence by paying blood money and by fighting their cases in the courts free of cost.
DEATH PENALTY FOR BLASPHEMY AND APOSTASY
In some of the 47 Muslim-majority countries in the world, conversion from Islam or renouncing Islam is considered apostasy and is technically a capital crime.
The death penalty has also been expanded on the basis of Sharia law to cases of blasphemy. That is, the death penalty can be imposed in cases of those who offend the Prophet Mohammed, other prophets or the Holy Scriptures.
According to the report Freedom of Thought 2019, published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), the “crime” of apostasy was found to be punishable by death in 12 of the most fundamentalist Muslim countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia (despite contradicting Federal law, the State Governments of Kelantan and Terengganu passed laws in 1993 and 2002, respectively, making apostasy a capital offence), Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria (only in twelve predominantly Muslim Northern States), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United
Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Pakistan does not have a death sentence for apostasy but it does for “blasphemy”, and the threshold for blasphemy can very low. So, in effect you can be put to death for expressing atheism in 13 countries.
Out of 47 Muslim-majority countries in the world, at most 6 permit capital punishment for blasphemy. They are Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and possibly Afghanistan (the new Afghan Constitution incorporates human rights norms that could affect statutes treating blasphemy as a capital crime).
In another four States, militant Islamists acting as religious authorities in some areas are also dealing out Sharia punishment including death for “offences” to religion: namely Al-Shabaab in Somalia; Boko Haram and other Islamists in Nigeria; the Taliban in Afghanistan; and the Sunni jihadist group, known as Islamic State (IS), in Libya.
In 2018, Mauritania enacted a law which makes the death sentence for apostasy compulsory, as well as upgrading blasphemy to a capital offence and making that compulsory as well. An amendment to penal code Article 306 will see the death penalty applied to “every Muslim, man or woman, who ridicules or insults Allah”, his messenger, his teachings, or any of his prophets, “even if [the accused] repents”.
In 2018, there were no executions, however three death sentences were imposed, according to Amnesty International.
A blogger, Mohamed Mkhaïtir, who was sentenced to death in December 2014 for a “blasphemous” post he made on Facebook, remained in custody in an unknown location. This was despite an appeal court ruling that commuted his death sentence on 9 November 2017 to a prison term equal to the amount of time he had already served.
About 1,500 people – both non-Muslims and secular Muslims – have been charged under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws since 1985. No one has been put to death for a blasphemy conviction and most death sentences for blasphemy are overturned on appeal by higher. However, around 40 people are awaiting the death sentence or serving life sentences, according the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and press.
In 2018, cases of acquittal were recorded but also death sentences for blasphemy.
On 14 September 2018, additional District and Sessions Court Judge Raja Safder Iqbal sentenced Arshad Sardar to death in a blasphemy case, which had been registered at the request of a village faith healer in 2015.
On 31 October 2018, Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, a mother of five from Punjab province, who was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to hang after she was accused of defiling the name of the Prophet Muhammed during an argument the year before with Muslim colleagues. The workers had refused to drink from a bucket of water Asia Bibi had touched because she was not Muslim. On 7 November she was released from the Mulan prison and has been moved from her jail cell to an undisclosed location in another part of the country, intelligence sources in Pakistan told CNN. Despite calls by protestors to place Bibi on the country’s exit control list, she is legally free to leave the country.
On 18 December 2018, two Christian brothers have been sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan. Qaiser and Amoon Ayub were sentenced to hang by a district judge after being convicted of insulting the Prophet Mohammed in articles and portraits posted on their website.
DEATH PENALTY FOR JUVENILE OFFENDERS
In 2018, at least 8 juvenile offenders were executed in Iran (at least 7) and in South Sudan (1).
In 2017, there were at least 8 executions of people under the age of 18 at the time of their crime, and they were carried out in Iran (6) and South Sudan (2).
In addition, in 2018, juvenile offenders were sentenced to death or were still on death row at the end of the year in Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and South Sudan.
Under Iranian law, girls above nine years of age and boys over 15 are considered adults, and therefore can be condemned to death. Authorities generally wait for young convicts to reach their eighteenth birthday before ordering their execution.
At least 7 juvenile offenders were hanged in 2018, including 2 females, with 1 case reported by official sources (for murder) and 6 by non-official sources (for murder).
The Iranian regime hanged at least 8 juvenile offenders in 2019.
At least 17 juvenile offenders were hanged in 2014, 3 in 2015, 5 in 2016 and 6 in 2017.
The Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation has documented at least 128 executions of juvenile offenders in Iran between the beginning of 2000 and 31 December 2018.
According to Iran Human Rights at least 100 people on death row in Iran were under the age of 18 when they committed their crimes.
The execution of people under the age of 18 at the time of their crime constitutes a clear violation of South Sudan’s obligations under South Sudanese law and international human rights law and standards. The use of the death penalty against such people is strictly prohibited by South Sudan’s 2011 Transitional Constitution and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which South Sudan is a party.
However, in 2018, at least seven people, including an individual known to have been under the age of 18 at the time of the crime, were hanged, according to evidence provided to Amnesty International by legal professionals and government officials. Four people, including the child, are known to have been executed in Wau Central Prison between May and October 2018, and at least three people were hanged in Juba between July and October 2018. The person below the age of 18 at the time of the crime was executed in Wau the day after he was transferred to the prison.
Two of the four people executed in 2017 were children at the time of their conviction.
According to Amnesty International, at the end of 2018, at least 345 people were under sentence of death, including a secondary school pupil on death row at Juba Central Prison, who was sentenced to death when he was 15.
THE DEATH PENALTY ON WOMEN
While information on the gender of death row inmates is difficult to obtain, women are under sentence of death in at least 27 of the countries that retain the death penalty. Countries were women are under death sentence are: Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Ghana, Guyana, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Tanzania, Uganda, United States, Vietnam and Zambia.
In 2018, at least 14 women were executed in 4 States: Egypt (5), Iran (at least 5), Saudi Arabia (3) and North Korea (1). Women executed represent 0.47% of the total worldwide, their executions are carried out mainly by those States who strictly apply Sharia law and are sent to the gallows mainly for murder.
To at least 14 women executed in 2018 in Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, must be added those put to death in China, where the death penalty is considered a State secret and reports of executions carried by local media or independent sources in fact represent only a minimal part of the phenomenon.
In 2018, Egypt carried out at least 62 executions according to the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR). Among them were 5 women.
In 2018, there were at least 5 executions of women (compared to 12 in 2017), of which 1 reported by official sources and all for murder. Two of them were juveniles at the moment of fact.
The Iranian regime hanged at least 17 women in 2019, six during the first three weeks of December alone, which is not surprising given the increasing repression following the November uprising.
Another two women were executed in January 2020, bringing the total number of women executed during the reign of supposed moderate Hassan Rouhani to at least 106.
In 2018, Saudi Arabia executed 142 people, including 3 foreign women for murder. In 2017, Saudi Arabia had executed 2 women and another 3 in 2016.
In 2018, at least 3 executions were recorded in North Korea, including that of a woman.
On 17 November 2018, a female fortune teller in her early 20s was executed by firing squad in Chongjin and similar punishments were carried out in other parts of the country, the Daily NK reported on 19 December. The North Korean authorities have recently focused on cracking down on “acts of superstition” leading to the execution of the fortune teller in Chongjin and the arrest of other fortune tellers in Onsong and Hoeryong who are awaiting trial.
THE “WAR ON DRUGS”
In the name of the war on drugs, in 2018, there were at least 110 executions (compared to 344 in 2017, 338 in 2016 and 713 in 2015) carried out in 4 countries: Saudi Arabia (57); China (at least 15, but the real number is unknown); Iran (at least 27); Singapore (11). It is likely that Vietnam carried out drug-related executions, but because of state secrecy it is not possible to confirm this.
In 2018, at least 247 death sentences for drug offences were handed down though not carried out in 11 more countries: Bahrain (2), Bangladesh (2), Egypt (23), Indonesia (39), Iraq (1), Kuwait (2), Malaysia (136), Pakistan (2), Sri Lanka (6), Thailand (at least 3) and Vietnam (at least 31). A significant proportion of those sentenced are foreign nationals.
Over 7,000 people are currently on death row for drug offences globally, according to Harm Reduction International (HRI).
Of the 142 executions in Saudi Arabia in 2018, 57 were carried out for drug-related crimes, while in 2017 were 60, three times higher than in 2016. Executions for drug continue to amount to 40% of the total and in the 78.9% refer to foreigners.
On 18 October 2017, the Guardian Council approved the bill for the amendment to the drug law, which was approved by Iran’s Parliament on 13 August and which entered into force on 14 November 2017.
Under the amended Bill, those charged with smuggling less than 50 kilograms of opium, less than 3 kilograms of methamphetamine and less than 2 kilograms of heroin will not be executed. Under the previous law, possessing 5kg of opium or 30g of heroin was a capital offence.
The new law is a potentially significant step towards decreasing the number of of drug-related executions in Iran, because the new limits are set to be retroactively applied to those death-row prisoners that had been charged before the new legislation.
On 3 July 2018, Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, the Tehran prosecutor general, announced that 1,700 sentences of narcotic-related cases have been commuted from capital punishment and life sentence to less severe forms of punishment.
Following amendments to the country’s antinarcotics law, known executions in Iran dropped from at least 544 in 2017 to at least 310 in 2018 – a decrease of 43%.
Of the at least 310 executions tallied by Hands Off Cain in 2018, at least 27 were for drug-related offences, all unofficial.
In 2017, of the at least 544 executions at least 257 were for drug-related offences.
In 2018, Singapore hanged 13 people, eleven for drug trafficking and two for murder, according to the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) annual report. In 2017, executions were 8, all for drug trafficking. In 2018, 17 new mandatory death sentences, including one for murder and 16 for drug trafficking, including on one woman, were imposed, according to Amnesty International, when in 2017 fifteen were reported. At the end of 2018, there were at least 40 inmates on Singapore’s death row.
THE “WAR ON TERROR”
The number of executions for terrorism decreased dramatically in 2018 compared to 2017.
In 2018, at least 79 people were executed for acts of “terrorism” or violent crimes of political nature in 5 countries: Egypt (12), Iran (at least 13), Iraq (at least 44), Saudi Arabia (1) and Somalia (9).
The executions had been at least 250 in 2017 in 9 countries, at least 182 in 2016 in 8 countries and 100 in 2015 in 12 countries.
It could not be confirmed if judicial executions for terrorism took place in Syria in 2018.
A new anti-terrorism law expanding the scope of the death penalty was approved in Indonesia in 2018.
In Tunisia, the number of people tried and detained for terrorism had reached 1,500 units in May 2018.
Since their establishment in January 2015, Pakistan’s military courts have sentenced 345 terrorists to death, 56 of whom have been executed.
At the end of 2018, at the United States’ Navy base in Cuba that also hosts the infamous Guantanamo detention camp, there were 41 men still in custody for terrorism.
In 2018, of the 62 executions, 12 were for terrorism or political violent acts. All were disposed by military courts. In 2017, 15 executions were carried out in one day for the same facts.
In 2018, Iran executed at least 24 people on charges such as Moharebeh (enmity against God), “corruption on earth” or terrorism. At least 17 other people were hanged for non-violent facts or for political crimes. Three of them were accused of Moharebeh.
Iraqi law imposes the death penalty for 48 crimes, but most executions for which the criminal charge has been revealed have been under Article 4 of the October 2005 Anti-Terrorism Law. The Anti-Terrorism Law provides for the death penalty for “whoever commits... terrorist acts, as well as for “anyone who instigates, prepares, finances and fosters the conditions for terrorists to commit this type of crime”. The law contains a broad definition of terrorism that is susceptible to wide interpretation.
Iraq executed at least 52 people in 2018, all for terrorism. In 2017, Iraq carried out at least 125 executions, most of them related to acts of terrorism.
Saudi Arabia carried out at least 1 execution for acts of “terrorism” in 2018 and the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh issued at least 7 death sentences. In 2017 there were at least 4 executions for acts of “terrorism” and in 2016 at least 47.
In 2018, executions decreased to 13, from the at least 24 of 2017. All were inflicted by military courts, mainly on Al-Shabaab militants (9) for acts of terrorism under the authority of the Federal Government of Somalia.
Of the 24 death sentences recorded in 2018, 15 were on Al-Shabaab militants for terrorism. All were issued by military courts, 8 by the Federal Government and 7 in Puntland.
For the second consecutive year, Indonesia observed a hiatus in executions. Of the 48 recorded new death sentences, 39 were imposed for drug-related offences, 8 for murder, and 1 for a terrorism-related crime.
Thirteen people, including six jihadists, were sentenced to death in 2015. At least 36 new death sentences for terrorism were issued, out of a total of 44 new death sentences handed down in 2016. Of the 25 new death sentences issued in 2017, 22 were on accounts of terrorism. In 2018, there were at least 12 death sentences, but none related to terrorism.
By May 2018, the number of people tried and detained for terrorism had reached 1,500 units, according to the spokesman for the counter-terrorism judicial division Sofien Sliti.
The death sentences for terrorism resumed en masse in 2019.
On 8 January 2019, a Tunisian court sentenced five jihadists – one of whom, Borhen Boulaabi, was in custody – to death over the 2015 murder of a teenage shepherd. The murder was claimed by the Tunisian branch of the Islamic State group, Jund al-Khilafa.
On 11 January 2019, a court in the capital Tunis sentenced 41 jihadists to death over an attack that killed 15 soldiers on the border with Algeria in 2014.
All of the those found guilty – two of whom were in custody – were linked to the Islamic State group.
On 7 March 2019, Tunisia’s Criminal Court on terrorism cases sentenced 31 people to death over the 2014 terrorist attack on the house of former Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou. The 31 suspects, who include Algerians as well as Tunisians, were sentenced in absentia.
According the 2017 Report, presented in April 2018 by the Organisation Against Torture in Tunisia (OATT), 77 people were on death row at the end of the year and according a survey conducted by the Institute “3CStudies” quoted in the OATT Report, 70% of Tunisian are in favour of the death penalty.
As of 31 December 2018, Pakistan’s military courts awarded the death penalty to 345 terrorists since their establishment in January 2015. Cases of 717 accused terrorists were sent to them by the federal government and 646 of them have been finalized. Out of the 646 finalized cases, 345 terrorists were given death penalty and 296 rigorous imprisonment of varied durations, ranging from life imprisonment to a minimum duration of five years. Five accused were also acquitted.
Out of 345 sentenced to death, 56 terrorists have been executed after completion of legal process beyond military court decisions, which included their appeal in superior civil courts and rejection of their mercy petition both by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and the President of Pakistan.
Authorities continued to implement repressive policies in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and targeted the region’s ethnic Uyghur population. Officials in the XUAR continued to implement a pledge to crack down on the Government-designated “three forces” of “religious extremism”, “splittism,” and “terrorism”. Possession of publications or audio-visual materials discussing independence, autonomy, or other sensitive subjects was not permitted.
TOP SECRET DEATH
In some countries, such as China and Vietnam, the death penalty is considered a State secret and reports of executions carried by local media or independent sources – upon which the execution totals are mainly based – in fact represent only a fraction of the total of executions carried out nationwide every year.
The same is applicable for Belarus, where news of executions filters mainly through relatives or international organisations long after the fact.
In Iran, which carries out executions regularly without classifying the death penalty as a State secret, the main sources of information on executions are reports selected by the regime and carried by State media. These reports do not carry news of all executions, as evidenced by information occasionally divulged by individual citizens or by political opposition groups.
Absolute secrecy governs executions in some countries, such as Egypt, North Korea, South Sudan and Syria, where news of executions rarely filters through to the local media.
Other States, like Indonesia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, divulge news of executions after they have taken place, while relatives, lawyers and the condemned people themselves are being kept in the dark before the actual executions take place.
There are also countries considered “democratic”, such as India, Japan, Taiwan and the United States itself, where the system of capital punishment is in many aspects covered by a veil of secrecy.
THE “HUMANE” LETHAL INJECTION
Countries that decided to abandon the electric chair, hanging or the firing squad for lethal injection as the preferred method of execution, presented this “reform” as a conquest of civility and a humane and painless way to execute the condemned. The reality is very different.
“Methods of execution cannot be discounted as being completely painless,” UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez told the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee on 23 October 2012. “Following a number of executions in the United States, it has recently become apparent that the (lethal injection) regimen, as currently administered, does not work as efficiently as intended,” Mendez’s report said. “Some prisoners take many minutes to die and others become very distressed,” he said. “New studies conclude that even if lethal injection is administered without technical error, those executed may experience suffocation, and therefore the conventional
view of lethal injection as a peaceful and painless death is questionable.”
Today, there are five countries that use or provide for lethal injection as a method of execution: United States, China, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Executions by lethal injection were carried out also in Guatemala and Philippines,
In 2018, executions by lethal injection were carried out in 4 Countries: China (number unknown), Vietnam (at least 85), United States (23) and Thailand (1).
EXTRADITION AND THE DEATH PENALTY
All Member States of the European Union along with many other abolitionist countries are committed, on the basis of their own laws and/or through international Treaties they have signed, to not extradite persons suspected of capital crimes to countries where they risk being condemned to death or executed. Some abolitionist countries have not considered this commitment as obligatory.
On 17 January 2012, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) dismissed the appeals against the extradition to the US by two murder suspects, Phillip Harkins, a British national, and Joshua Edwards, an American, who were accused of murder and other offences in separate incidents. Lawyers for the two men also told the Strasbourg Court they might receive life sentences of imprisonment without parole that would amount to a breach of their rights under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights that prohibits inhumane and degrading treatment. The Court said “the diplomatic assurances, provided by the US to the British Government – that the death penalty would not be sought in respect of Mr Harkins or Mr Edwards – were clear and sufficient to remove any risk that either of the applicants could be sentenced to death if extradited, particularly as the US had a long history of respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
On the question of life imprisonment without parole, the Court said it would not be disproportionate if Harkins or Edwards were given life sentences.
However, in July 2013, in the case of Vinter and Others vs. the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights held that “whole life” sentences with no possibility of review and no prospect of release were inhumane and degrading treatment in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Under UK law, the applicants were each given a “whole life tariff,” meaning that they could only be freed at the discretion of the Justice Secretary on compassionate grounds if they became terminally ill or seriously incapacitated. After this ruling, the Strasbourg Court continued and has explicitly targeted the Life Without Parole regime. Between 2014 and 2016, the ECHR delivered six more judgements on Life Without Parole in which it held to be a violation of Article 3 of the Convention: Ocalan vs Turkey 2, March 2014; László Magyar vs Hungary, May 2014; Harakchiev and Tolumov vs Bulgaria, July 2014; Kaytan vs Turkey, September 2015; Murray vs. Netherlands, April 2016; Viola vs Italy, October 2019.
For completeness, we have to mention also Trabelsi vs Belgium, September 2014 (extradition to the United States with the risk of being sentenced to Life Without Parole).