China leads death list as number of executions around the world soars

Anne Penketh – The Independent

Copyright The Independent
05 April 2005
Executions around the world are nearing record levels,
and the Unites States is among the four countries
which account for 97 per cent of the total, a report
has found.
At least 3,797 people were executed in 25 countries in
2004, according to a report released today by Amnesty
International.
The report says China easily operates the most
stringent capital punishment regime, with an estimated
3,400 executions last year. In second place, Iran
executed at least 159, Vietnam at least 64, and 59
prisoners were put to death in the US.
The number of executions worldwide last year was the
highest since 1996, when 4,272 were carried out.
No official figures are available for China’s
execution rate, and Amnesty has changed the method it
uses to calculate the number of executions there.
According to Amnesty’s report for 2003 China carried
out at least 726 executions. The much higher figure of
3,400 executed last yearis an estimate based on
internet reports of trials, although it is still
described as the “tip of the iceberg”.
Kate Allen, Amnesty International’s UK director, said
China’s record was “genuinely frightening”. Amnesty
quoted a delegate at the National People’s Congress in
March last year, who said that “nearly 10,000” people
were executed every year in China. Corruption is among
the crimes which carries the death penalty.
Ms Allen said: “It is deeply disturbing that the vast
majority of those executed in the world last year did
not even have fair trials, and many were convicted on
the basis of ‘evidence’ extracted under torture.
“The death penalty is cruel and unnecessary, does not
deter crime, and runs the risk of killing the wrongly
convicted. It is time to consign the death penalty to
the dustbin of history.” Yet the figures conceal a
trend that shows a general move towards abolition.
“The world continued to move closer to the universal
abolition of capital punishment during 2004,” the
report says.
Five countries abolished the death penalty for all
crimes last year – Bhutan, Greece, Samoa, Senegal and
Turkey. This means that 120 countries have abolished
the death penalty in law or practice.
Although the US has become accustomed to being named
in the grim league table alongside states such as
Iran, which it has branded an “outpost of tyranny,”
there were fewer executions compared with 2003, when
65 were held. Two prisoners with long histories of
mental illness were put to death in the US, but the
Supreme Court ruled that imposing death sentences
against child offenders contravened the US
constitution.
In several of the 38 American states where the death
penalty is still legal, the lawfulness of lethal
injection has been challenged on the grounds that one
of the chemicals used may mask a prisoner’s suffering.
Amnesty says that six prisoners on death row in the US
were released last year after they were found
innocent.
Kenny Richey, a Scotsman, whose conviction for murder
and arson was overturned on appeal earlier this year,
is still at risk of execution because Ohio prosecutors
are trying to have the decision overturned.
Ms Allen said: “Last year I visited Scotsman Kenny
Richey on death row in Ohio and saw the true
wretchedness of a system that can condemn someone to
years of calculated cruelty as they await death at the
hands of the state.
“Even now Kenny is effectively suspended between life
and death. We want to see Ohio prosecutors accept the
senior state court’s decision and release Kenny
immediately,” Ms Allen said.
In some countries, such as Vietnam, it remains a state
secret to reveal the number of executions carried out.
Video evidence of North Korea’s execution of defectors
was produced last week in a video released by a
Japanese non-governmental organisation.
MOST EXECUTIONS
Total in 2004
1 China 3,400*
2 Iran 159*
3 Vietnam 64*
4 United States 59*
5 Saudi Arabia 33*
6 Pakistan 15*
7 Kuwait 9*
8 Bangladesh 7*
9= Egypt 6*
= Singapore 6*
= Yemen 6*

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