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Amnesty urges China to disclose execution figures

March 30, 2010

BBC  March 29, 2010

Rights group Amnesty International has urged China to disclose the number of
prisoners it executes.

In its annual report on the use of the death penalty, Amnesty said some 714
people were known to have been executed in 18 countries in 2009.

But the group said the true global figure could be much higher, as thousands
of executions were thought to have been carried out in China alone.

At least 366 people were executed in Iran, 120 in Iraq and 52 in the US.

Amnesty praised Burundi and Togo for abolishing the death penalty in 2009
and said that for the first time in modern history, no-one had been executed
in Europe or the former Soviet Union over the year.

'Torture'

Beijing says it executes fewer people now than it has in the past, but has
always maintained that details of its executions are a state secret.

However, Amnesty said that "evidence from previous years and a number of
current sources indicates that the figure remains in the thousands".

WORLD EXECUTIONS 2009 Hangman in Iran (2007) China: thousands suspected
executed by injection and shooting Iran: more than 366 executions, by
hanging or stoning Iraq: more than 120 executions by hanging Saudi Arabia:
at least 69 executions by beheading or crucifixion US: 52 executions by
lethal injection of electrocution

It said the death penalty could be applied to 68 offences in the country,
including non-violent crimes, with executions carried out by lethal
injection or firing squad.

Many people were sentenced based on confessions extracted under torture and
having had limited access to legal counsel, it said.

"The Chinese authorities claim that fewer executions are taking place," said
Amnesty's Interim Secretary General Claudio Cordone.

"If this is true, why won't they tell the world how many people the state
put to death?"

Since 2007, all death sentences passed in China have been subject to a
mandatory review by a higher court, a process China says has reduced the
number of killings carried out.

"However, as long as statistics on the use of the death penalty in China
remain a state secret, it will be impossible to verify this claim and to
analyse actual trends," said Amnesty.

Of particular concern to Amnesty were cases of those executed after
political unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang, people sentenced to death for
financial fraud and a British man, Akmal Shaikh, executed for drug smuggling
despite his lawyer's claims he was mentally ill.

"The time is long overdue for China to fall into line with international law
and standards on the death penalty and be open and transparent regarding its
use of capital punishment," it said.

Abolitionist trend

Amnesty said that by the end of 2009, there were 17,118 people on death row
around the world, with 2,001 people sentenced that year.

But while 58 countries still had a death penalty in 2009, only 18 countries
were known to have carried out executions.
Graph

It also said "commutations and pardons of death sentences appear to be more
frequent" in countries which still pass death sentences, including more than
4,000 in Kenya in a mass commutation in August.

The group noted a sharp rise in executions in Iran in the eight weeks after
political unrest following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election victory
in June 2009.

Iran was also criticised, along with Saudi Arabia, for carrying out
executions of people convicted of crimes they committed while under the age
of 18.

Saudi Arabia was reported to have carried out executions "at an alarming
rate", with at least 69 people publically beheaded in 2009.

The report also highlighted an increasing abolitionist trend around the
world in recent years.

Both Burundi and Togo outlawed the death penalty in 2009, becoming the 94th
and 95th countries to do so.

"The world is in reach of 100 countries declaring their refusal to put
people to death," said Amnesty.

The group repeated its assertion that the death penalty is cruel, an
"affront to human dignity" and often used disproportionately against the
poor and marginalised.

It said the secrecy surrounding state executions in many countries was
"indefensible".

"If capital punishment is a legitimate act of government as these nations
claim, there is no reason for its use to be hidden from the public and
international scrutiny," it said.
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