China and Iran are world leaders in executions; Data on North Korea is lacking

Special to

metzlerBy John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS—The People’s Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Iran top the global charts for executions according to a newly released report by Amnesty International.

Iran accounted for 55 percent of all recorded death sentences according to Amnesty. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Pakistan are tragically part of this gruesome tally as compiled by the humanitarian watchdog group.

A drug dealer was sentenced to death during a public trial in 2006. / Aly Song / Reuters
A drug dealer was sentenced to death during a public trial in 2006. / Aly Song / Reuters

Though Iran’s 567 executions represented the world’s second highest tally, the number fell from 977 judicially sanctioned executions in 2015. While about half of the executions are connected to drug-related and other criminal offenses, others are likely carried out for political and religious crimes.

In a separate Report on Iran Amnesty advised, “The authorities heavily suppressed the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and religious belief, arresting and imprisoning peaceful critics and others after grossly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained common and widespread.”

According to Amnesty International, 18,848 people worldwide are under death sentences and 3,117 were executed in 2016.

“Transparency is an essential safeguard of due Process,” advised Amnesty representative Renzo Pomi. In Iran it’s not possible to confirm exact numbers of executions. For example two people were killed for “insulting the Prophet” in violation of their right to religious freedom.

The People’s Republic of China presents another case shrouded in fog. While Amnesty International cites China as the world’s leading global executioner with numbers in the thousands, “figures on the use of the death penalty in China remain classified as state secrets.”

While AI admits the use of the death penalty has decreased in China in recent years, there are still 46 crimes punishable by death.

“The Chinese authorities also continued to resort to the death penalty as a tool to send political messages,” the report stated, adding though that the government is using the death sentence less for “economic crimes.”

Vietnam ranks on “a scale higher than previously thought,” according to the survey. Again such information is shrouded as state secrets. During 2016, Vietnam imposed 63 new death sentences though the number is likely larger.

Nonetheless, Amnesty has discovered an alarming trend where a recently published report of Vietnam’ s Ministry of Public Security states that 429 prisoners were executed between August 2013 and June 2016 at a rate of 147 executions a year. Such figures would put Vietnam in league with Pakistan when it comes to state sanctioned executions.

Speaking at a press conference, Argentine Ambassador Martin Garcia Moritan stated his country was “firmly committed against the death penalty,” and moreover called for a “worldwide moratorium” against such actions by governments.

According to Amnesty’s Renzo Pomi, “Today 141 countries worldwide have abolished the death penalty.” This includes the entire Latin American region (including rather improbably Cuba), all of the European Union, much of Africa and Australia, and even Russia.

While the death penalty is still legal in parts of the United States, here AI concedes that its use has continued to decrease. Twenty executions were carried out in 2016 in the USA, the fewest since 1991.

Nonetheless such reports concede that countries such as North Korea are not specifically listed because of a total lack of data. Many human rights groups concede that death sentences and executions remain commonplace in the communist country but given the near antiseptically sealed information flow, specifics are difficult to find.

Other countries such as the Philippines, while not having a formal death penalty on the books, have seen a hideously high number of extra judicial executions by para-militaries and police. Newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte has publicly boasted about using such tactics to counter criminal and drug gangs. The Manila government may reinstate the death penalty this year.

While the death penalty may have been officially abolished in many places, countries throughout Central America and Africa have witnessed a surge of extra-judicial killings. And what of the grinding violence in Syria and Yemen?

While the judicially sanctioned use of executions may have slowed, the vicious violence plaguing our world shows no sign of abating anytime soon.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]

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