Countries with close links to the UK and EU continued to occupy the ranks of the world’s most prolific executioners in 2016, research by international human rights group Reprieve has found.
In Saudi Arabia, over 150 people were executed for the second year running, including 47 people in one day in January 2016. Among those killed were juveniles and political protestors. Fears remain for the fate of at least three people sentenced to death as children – Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher – who still await beheading.
In Pakistan, the authorities continued to execute scores of prisoners from the country’s 8,000-strong death row. A total of 419 prisoners have been hanged since a moratorium on the death penalty was lifted in December 2014. Concerns remained over the strong risk of miscarriages of justice in Pakistan: earlier this year, the Supreme Court found that two men who had been hanged were innocent. Pakistan’s government claims its use of the death penalty is a response to terrorism, but Reprieve’s research found that 94% of prisoners recently hanged in Pakistan had nothing to do with terrorism.
In Iran, the government continued to hang hundreds of prisoners, nearly half of whom who were arrested for alleged drug offences. Reprieve continued to raise concerns that international funding for Iran’s anti-narcotics police may contribute to death sentences.
China continues to keep the number of executions a closely-guarded secret, but is widely believed to remain the world leader, with the death toll estimated in the thousands. The UK this year signed an agreement to increase cooperation with China on security and crime, leading to potential risks that British assistance could contribute to the death penalty.
Other countries of concern
The torture and sentencing to death of political protestors, and juveniles, continued apace in several countries with close ties to the UK.
Of particular concern are Bahrain – where several protestors await execution on the basis of forced ‘confessions’ – and Egypt. Reprieve has established that in the last three years, the Egyptian judiciary has sentenced 1,857 to death.
In addition, 2016 saw alarming proposals in Kuwait to lower to 16 the age at which people can be sentenced to death.
Commenting, Maya Foa, a director of Reprieve, said:
“It is alarming that countries with close links to the UK and EU continued to occupy the ranks of the world’s most prolific executioners in 2016. From Saudi Arabia, Iran and China, to Pakistan, Egypt and Bahrain, we have found children on death row, innocent people hanged, drugs offences dealt with as capital crimes, and torture used to extract false confessions. Countries that oppose executions must do more in 2017 to ensure that their overseas security assistance does not contribute to others states use of the death penalty.”
|1||China||Unknown, estimated at 1000+||The number of executions is a state secret, and the executions reported in the media are likely to be a fraction of those that are carried out. China continues to execute more people than any other country in the world.|
|2||Iran||534+||The actual number of executions is likely to be higher in Iran, given the government’s underreporting of executions and the holding of secret executions. Reprieve’s research shows that at least 211 of the hangings that took place in 2016 were for drugs offences, in violation of international law.|
|3||Saudi Arabia||154||This execution total is close to last year’s record high of 158. Among those executed this year were at least 4 juveniles who were killed as part of a mass execution of 47 people in January. One of them, Ali al-Ribh, was arrested in school, tortured into a false ‘confession’ to protest-related charges, and executed.|
|4||Iraq||101+||Ongoing armed conflict makes it impossible to obtain exact figures for Iraq, but Reprieve was able to establish that at least 101 executions took place in 2016. However, based on unconfirmed media reports, the real figure may be more than double this total.|
|5||Pakistan||87||According to figures gathered by Reprieve, there had been 87 executions in 2016 as of December 6. This was a decrease since 2015, which saw Pakistan embark on an unprecedented execution spree, and leapfrog Saudi Arabia to become the world’s third most prolific executioner. The country lifted a six-year moratorium on the execution of civilians in December 2014.|
|6||US||20||The most prolific executioner among US states was Georgia, which executed 9 people this year. Execution numbers fell to a record low amid growing concerns about the effectiveness of capital punishment. 2016 saw public support for the death penalty fall to under 50%, death sentences drop to a record low and every FDA-approved pharmaceutical company oppose the misuse of medicines in lethal injections, causing many states to put executions on hold.|
Notes to editors
1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org
2. Figures correct as of 20th December 2016.