News World Worldwide execution numbers drop, but rise in the United States

Worldwide execution numbers drop, but rise in the United States

US death penalty
Handcuffed serial killer Andrew Urdiales was sentenced to death last year for the murders of five women. Photo: Getty
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More people are being killed on death row in the United States each year despite a global trend for countries to move away from the barbaric executions of prisoners.

But aid organisations have warned that the total number of state-sanctioned prisoner deaths is likely far greater, after some countries – including China – refused to reveal the fates of many people in custody.

There were 690 executions recorded worldwide last year, including 25 in the US where more than half the states still impose the death penalty.

Alarmingly, a person in Alabama can be electrocuted to death or injected with a fatal drug even if the jury has been unable to agree the prisoner is guilty.

Popular methods in some countries still include beheading, hanging and death by firing squad.

The disturbing death row figures, released this week by Amnesty International which studied global death and executions, showed an overall 30 per cent decrease in the number of executions carried out worldwide.

In contrast to global trends, however, executions were found to have increased in the US – up from 23 in 2017 to 25 the following year.

There, 30 out of 50 states still have the death penalty.

Of those, 11 states − California, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wyoming − have not carried out executions for at least 10 years.

Death row prisoners in the US are killed by lethal injection or electrocution.

Meanwhile, China remains the world’s No.1 executioner, carrying out more than 1000 estimated executions by lethal injection or shooting each year.

The total figure remains a state secret and could be much higher than what Amnesty International is able to report.

China’s shameful reputation trumps Iran (253+ by hanging), Saudi Arabia (149 by beheading), Vietnam (85+ by lethal injection) and Iraq (52+ by hanging).

Iran continued to account for more than one third of all recorded executions, and 78 per cent of all known executions were carried out in just four countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Iraq.

In some instances, “confessions” may have been extracted by torture in order to convict and sentence someone to death.

Vietnamese woman Nguyễn Thị Loan told Amnesty International that her son Hồ Duy Hải was sentenced to death in 2008 after he was forced to sign a “confession” admitting to theft and murder.

He remains at risk of execution on death row in Vietnam.

“It has been 11 years since he was arrested and our family was torn apart,” she said.

“Just thinking about my son suffering behind bars hurts me so much.”

Amnesty International was unable to obtain accurate figures for Syria due to ongoing civil conflict.

The report shows at least 690 executions were known to have taken place around the world last year, a decrease of 31 per cent compared to 2017 with at least 993.

That decline has largely been attributed to Iran’s new anti-drug laws, which limit the use of the death penalty as a punishment for drug crimes.

Amnesty International’s secretary-general Kumi Naidoo said the dramatic global fall in executions proved that “even the most unlikely countries (were) starting to change their ways and realise the death penalty is not the answer”.

“Despite regressive steps from some, the number of executions carried out by several of the worst perpetrators has fallen significantly,” Mr Naidoo said.

“This is a hopeful indication that it’s only a matter of time before this cruel punishment is consigned to history, where it belongs.”

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena has declared he would resume executions after more than 40 years, posting an advertisement in February seeking male executioners with “excellent moral character”.

The last hangman in Sri Lanka resigned in 2014 after being shown the gallows for the first time and going into shock.

The pay for an executioner? Just $203 per month.