China executes thousands: Amnesty International

714 executions reported in 18 countries, but Chinese data secret

CBC News

A guard watches over inmates in their room at a drug rehabilitation centre in Shenyang, China. The country executes people for drug offences, something Amnesty International has pressured China to release details on. (Photo: Associated Press.)
A guard watches over inmates in their room at a drug rehabilitation centre in Shenyang, China. The country executes people for drug offences, something Amnesty International has pressured China to release details on. (Photo: Associated Press.)

Amnesty International urged China Tuesday to release details on the "thousands" of people it is believed to have executed last year.

"Chinese authorities claim that fewer executions are taking place," the group's interim secretary general Claudio Cordone said. "If this is true, why won't they tell the world how many people the state put to death?"

Among numerous campaigns on behalf of human rights, Amnesty is perhaps most vocal in its opposition to capital punishment. The group keeps track of the official number of executions every year and publishes them in an annual report.

According to official data, at least 714 people were executed in 18 countries in 2009. But that figure does not include the thousands of people who are believed to be executed in China every year, as information on the death penalty is a closely guarded state secret in China.

"The death penalty is cruel and degrading, and an affront to human dignity," Cordone said.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry duty officer reached after hours in Beijing had no immediate comment. While there's no indication that China plans to make its execution figures public, the country's highest court issued new guidelines last month that said the death penalty should be limited to a small number of "extremely serious" cases.

Outside of China, the nations with the most executions were Iran with at least 388 executions, Iraq with at least 120, Saudi Arabia with at least 69 and the United States with 52 in 2009. The United States was the only country in North or South America to have carried out capital punishment.

Globally, the group says the number of countries that have removed capital punishment entirely from their laws rose to 95, as Burundi and Togo abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

No executions took place in Europe in 2009, the first time that has happened since Amnesty began collecting records in 1980. But the streak has already been broken, as two prisoners were executed in Belarus two weeks ago.

Death row prisoners in the authoritarian country are only given a few moments' notice before they're killed. They're then shot in the back of the head and their bodies are buried secretly, the group said.

Belarus is the only country in Europe to still employ capital punishment. Although the law exists in Russia and Ukraine, neither has executed a prisoner in more than a decade.

In addition to its criticism of Chinese secrecy, Amnesty took aim at Iran's use of the death penalty, because its use is often politically motivated. Of the 388 executions in Iran last year, 112 were known to have taken place in the eight-week period between the presidential election on June 12 and the inauguration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second term as President on Aug. 5.

In addition to those executed, at least 2001 people were sentenced to death in 56 countries last year, the report said.

30 March 2010 — Return to cover.
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