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Death Sentences up, Executions down in 2014

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 2 2015 (IPS) - Governments worldwide sentenced at least 2,466 people to death in 2014; judgements which have been condemned by rights group Amnesty International.

Amnesty’s annual Death Sentences and Executions report, released Wednesday, documented a 28 percent uptick in death sentence judgements compared to 2013.

This increase was largely due to sharp spikes in death sentences in Egypt and Nigeria, where courts imposed mass sentences against scores of people in some cases,” the report outlined.

There were 509 death sentences recorded in Egypt and 659 in Nigeria, up from 109 and 141 respectively.

Many of these sentences came in response to terrorism threats. Pakistan, which had placed a six-year moratorium on the death penalty, reinstated capital punishment after the attack in December 2014 at a Peshawar school, where terrorists killed 145 people including 132 children.

People in at least 55 countries were sentenced to death in 2014.

Actual executions decreased in number, with 607 recorded executions in 2014 representing a 22 percent fall compared to the 778 recorded in 2013.

In launching the report at United Nations headquarters in New York, Amnesty International’s Renzo Pomi stressed the reported numbers were a bare minimum, due to difficulty in collecting accurate numbers.

“For sure, these are significantly underestimated from the real figures,” Pomi said.

“We have no data from China, because the numbers are considered a state secret.”

Amnesty stated that “thousands are executed and sentenced to death [in China] every year” but that secrecy makes the actual numbers “impossible to determine.”

“We call on China to be more transparent on its use of the death penalty,” Pomi said.

He said Amnesty condemned government use of death sentences in an attempt to solve crime problems, saying such attempts are “deceiving the public” and are often used “to cover inefficient systems.”

After China, Iran was said to be the world’s next most prolific executioner, with 289 executions; however, Amnesty stated at least 454 more were not acknowledged by authorities. Saudi Arabia carried out at least 90, Iraq at least 61, and the United States of America recorded 35 executions.

While executions dropped in 2014, Pomi expressed alarm that death sentences were widely being imposed for less serious crimes, such as drug crimes, adultery, blasphemy and robbery.

“The concern is the death penalty is being imposed not for the most serious of crimes, but for crimes that don’t fit in this category,” he said.

“The death penalty often discriminates against the poor and ethnic minorities. There have been grossly unfair trials and evidence extracted under torture, thereby increasing the risk of executing people innocent of the crime for which they have been condemned.”

Amnesty believes almost 20,000 people worldwide were under death sentences at the end of 2014.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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