Amnesty International (AI) on Wednesday published the 2018 edition of its annual report on the death penalty. The report found a 31 percent decrease in executions compared to 2017, “the lowest number of executions that Amnesty International has recorded in the past decade.”
China remains the world leader in performing executions, followed by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Iraq.
AI explained the race for the top spot was not really close since executions in China are probably an order of magnitude worse than admitted in official pronouncements. Data on executions in China is classified as a state secret, but AI believes the Chinese may have executed far more people than the rest of the world combined in 2018.
“Excluding China, 78% of all reported executions took place in just four countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Iraq,” the report noted.
Iran, the number two global executioner, experienced a 50 percent drop in executions from 2017 to 2018, largely due to changes in its drug laws. However, Iran stoned at least two of those given the death sentence, arguably among the most barbaric methods. Also, Iran executed seven people under 18 years of age last year.
Saudi Arabia performed 149 executions in 2018 according to the AI report. Over half of those executed were foreign nationals, many of them convicted on drug charges.
AI criticized Saudi authorities for failing to “abide by international standards of fair trial and safeguards for defendants in capital cases,” as many of those trials were held in secret without proper legal representation for the defendants, or even translation services provided for foreign prisoners. Saudi officials frequently used the death penalty for political purposes, as with calls for the execution of Shiite clerics who criticized the Saudi government or called for regime change.
AI criticized Iraq for carrying out executions “despite flagrant violations of due process,” sometimes in response to public outrage over terrorist attacks by groups like the Islamic State. Iraq often executed accused terrorists in groups of ten or more at once.
Vietnam’s position in the top five was due in part to the government deciding to make data on executions publicly available for the first time. Such information is normally treated as a state secret, similar to the policy in China. AI cited concerns that many of the 85 executions carried out in Vietnam in 2018 were based on “confessions obtained through torture.”
AI reported Japan “more than tripled its annual figure,” but the increase was from 4 executions in 2017 to 15 in 2018, and 13 of them were convicted perpetrators of the horrific sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.
Amnesty International is strongly opposed to the death penalty and considers it “abhorrent” in all cases, even mass-casualty terrorist attacks. The annual death penalty report is exceptionally critical of cases where the death penalty is applied in a capricious manner or without fair legal proceedings.
As in previous reports over the past decade, AI criticized the United States for being the only country in the Americas to carry out executions. Over half of them occurred in Texas, which “nearly doubled its figure compared to 2017 (from 7 to 13).”