Death Sentences and Executions Rise Worldwide

Breakfast With Bwana

By Anil Madan

A friend sent a video of purported executions of Nigerian drug smugglers in Saudi Arabia. It showed three beheadings by a sword-wielding executioner wearing his white robes that did not appear to be splattered with blood. One of my high school classmates who is a surgeon, replied with this matter-of-fact comment: “I have my doubts about the genuineness. There should be blood all over the place. A carotid artery can spray up to 10 feet away.” Another classmate wrote: “That email you sent about Saudi justice is horrifying. Is that real? Why isn’t the whole world outraged? Saudi Arabia should be made a pariah nation, and nobody should do business with them.”

Excluding the thousands believed to have taken place in China, executions significantly increased by 53% from 2021, to 883 from 579. This is the highest number since 2017 (993). Pic – India Posts English

On the heels of this, a friend sent me an article about the release of Amnesty International’s (Amnesty) annual report ‘Death Sentences and Executions 2022’. Before we distill the essence of the Amnesty report, let us note that the organization makes its position clear: “Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence, or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The organization campaigns for total abolition of the death penalty.”

Amnesty’s research on the global use of the death penalty in 2022 revealed a spike in the number of people known to have been executed worldwide, including a significant increase in executions for drug-related offences. Amnesty commented that this “negative trend” contrasts with a countervailing “positive tendency”: “a substantial number of countries have taken decisive steps away from the death penalty in 2022, marking remarkable progress against the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”

It is not my intention to discuss the pros and cons of the death penalty or whether it should be abolished entirely. Rather, it is to frame the discussion in a different light given the reality that in many countries, the death penalty and execution are not going to be eliminated any time soon. Executions are used by many countries to eliminate political opponents, drug traffickers, and other undesirables.

Secrecy and restrictive state practices

What did Amnesty document for its 2022 report? Secrecy and restrictive state practices continued to impair an accurate assessment of the use of the death penalty in several countries, including China, North Korea and Viet Nam. Excluding the thousands believed to have taken place in China, executions significantly increased by 53% from 2021, to 883 from 579. This is the highest number since 2017 (993).

The sharp increase in known global executions in 2022 was mainly due to the significant increase recorded in the Middle East and North Africa region, where known executions went up 825 in 2022 from 520 the preceding year. 93% of these known global executions were in the Middle East and North Africa region. Of the 825 executions recorded in the region, Iran (70%) and Saudi Arabia (24%) accounted for 94%. Iran’s execution-happy Ayatollahs have used hangings to eliminate protesters who have demonstrated against the regime following the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022. Recorded executions went up to 576 from 314 in the preceding year. Saudi Arabi tripled executions to 196 from 65, the highest number in 30 years.

Notable increases compared to 2021 were also recorded in Kuwait, Myanmar, the Palestinian territories, Singapore, and the United States. 94% of 112 new death sentences in Indonesia in 2022 were based on drug-related offenses.

Amnesty recorded at least 169 people sentenced to death in Bangladesh, the highest rate in the Asia-Pacific region, followed by India with 165 and Pakistan with 127.

Indonesia has the death penalty for crimes such as murder, terrorism, and drug trafficking, which it carries out by firing squad. Its last executions were in July 2016 when three Nigerians and one Indonesian convicted of drug offences were shot on the Nusa Kambangan prison island.

There are currently more than 450 death row inmates in Indonesia, with convicted drug traffickers accounting for around 60%, including 88 foreign nationals from 18 countries.

Amnesty believes that China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore carried out at least 325 executions in total for drug-related offenses, more than double the number recorded in 2021.

Singapore’s – world’s toughest anti-narcotics laws

Singapore, like Indonesia, imposes the death penalty frequently for drug offences. Just recently (so not included in the 2022 statistics) Singapore hanged a man for trafficking drugs, the city-state’s second execution in three weeks. The man was convicted in 2019 of trafficking around 1.5 kilos of cannabis. Singapore has some of the world’s toughest anti-narcotics laws. As per the rules, trafficking more than 500 grams of cannabis can result in the death penalty.

Following the recent hanging, Singapore’s Central Narcotics Bureau stated: “The person was accorded full due process under the law and had access to legal counsel throughout the process.”

In the face of a global outcry, Singapore is showing some sensitivity about the manner in which justice is administered if not about the ultimate result. The execution was the second in Singapore this year after another man, 46, was hanged on April 26 for conspiracy to smuggle one kilo cannabis. There have been calls for Singapore to abolish the death penalty altogether.

In the US, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts abolished the death penalty stating: “There is an impetus to respond in kind in punishing the person who has been convicted of murder, but the death penalty brutalizes the State which condemns and kills its prisoners. ‘Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.’”

Is there any chance that China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, or Singapore will evince such a view? I’d bet on Singapore coming around at some point. And perhaps before the US does.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 19 May 2023

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