More people were executed in Asia in 2008 than in the rest of the world put together. At least 1,838 (76 per cent) of all total reported executions were carried out by Asian states, with China alone accounting for more than 90 percent executions.
The following 11 countries are known to have carried out a total of at least 1,838 executions in 2008: China (at least 1,718), Pakistan (at least 36), Viet Nam (at least 19), Afghanistan (at least 17), North Korea (at least 15), Japan (15), Indonesia (10), Bangladesh (5), Mongolia (at least 1), Malaysia (at least 1), and Singapore (at least 1).
The following 16 countries are known to have sentenced a total of least 7,767 people to death: China (at least 7,003), Pakistan (at least 236), Bangladesh (at least 185), Afghanistan (131), India (at least 70), Viet Nam (at least 59), Japan (27), Malaysia (at least 22), Indonesia (at least 10), Taiwan (at least 8), Singapore (5), Thailand (at least 3), North Korea (+), South Korea (at least 2), Sri Lanka (2) and Laos (2).
In both Mongolia and North Korea, executions are marked by secrecy and a lack of transparency, making it impossible to gain reliable statistics and information about death penalty in these two countries.
After the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) of China began to review all death sentences on 1 January 2007, authorities have been reporting a drop in the number of death sentences. According to a senior SPC official, the SPC overturned about 15 per cent of the death sentences handed down by high courts in the first half of 2008. However, statistics on death sentences and executions remain state secrets and it is impossible for external observers to verify this claim.
The estimated number of people on death row in Pakistan is over 7,000. In June 2008, the Prime Minister announced that death sentences would be commuted to life imprisonment. Despite this, a Presidential Ordinance was issued in November that extended the death penalty to cyber crimes - and executions continued.
Japan carried out a total of 15 executions in 2008 (the highest known number since 1975). There are estimated to be approximately 100 people on death row. ***
In Middle East and Africa
The region with the second highest number (21 per cent) of executions in 2008 was the Middle East and North Africa.
The following nine countries were known to have carried out a total of at least 508 executions: Iran (at least 346), Saudi Arabia (at least 102), Iraq (at least 34), Yemen (at least 13), Libya (at least 8), Egypt (at least 2), Bahrain 1, Syria (at least 1) and the United Arab Emirates (at least 1).
The following 10 countries are known to have sentenced a total of at least 609 people to death: Iraq (at least 285), Algeria (at least 200), Egypt (at least 87), Jordan (at least 14), Syria (at least 7), Kuwait (at least 6), Libya (+), Morocco/Western Sahara (at least 4), Iran (+), Saudi Arabia (+).
No executions have been carried out for some years in Algeria, Morocco/Western Sahara and by the Palestinian Authority.
Amnesty International has expressed concern about the application of the death penalty in Iran. The methods used to execute at least 346 people in 2008 included stoning and hanging. The number of public hangings in Iran decreased in 2008 after the Chief Justice issued a decree banning them.
In 2008, the authorities in Iran proposed to widen further the already wide scope of application of the death penalty. A new law was passed that allows the application of the death penalty against people convicted of illegal audiovisual activities (pornography). A proposed law prescribing the death penalty for apostasy, heresy and witchcraft and for certain internet-related crimes that “promote corruption and apostasy” was being drafted in 2008.
The sharp increase in executions in Saudi Arabia that commenced in 2007 continued into 2008. There were at least 102 executions – at an average rate of two executions every week. In Saudi Arabia, prisoners are sentenced in largely secret and unfair trials and defendants, particularly poor migrant workers from countries in Africa and Asia, often have no defence lawyer and are unable to follow court proceedings in Arabic. ***
During 2008, 38 executions were known to have been carried out in the Americas – 37 in the USA and one in the twin island state of St Kitts and Nevis.
At least 125 people were sentenced to death in six countries: USA (at least 111), Trinidad and Tobago (10), Bahamas (at least 1), Saint Kitts and Nevis (at least 1) Saint Vincent and Grenadines (at least 1), and Jamaica (1).
The United States of America (USA) remains the only country in the Americas that regularly executes.
In USA, 37 executions were carried out by the authorities in nine states: Texas (18), Virginia (4). Georgia (3), South Carolina (3), Florida (2), Ohio (2), Oklahoma (2), Mississippi (2), Kentucky (1).
There is increasing evidence that the USA is slowly turning away from the death penalty. Sentences have continued to drop since the peak in the mid-1990s.
During 2008, four more men were released from death row on grounds of innocence, bringing the number of such cases since 1975 to more than 120. The four men had all spent more than a decade on death row. Despite such revelations about mistakes, states continue to execute even where there are doubts about the condemned prisoners’ guilt.
St Kitts and Nevis became the first country in the Americas outside of the USA to carry out an execution since 2003. ***
In Sub-Saharan Africa
In 2008 in sub-Saharan Africa, there were at least two known executions carried out - in Botswana (1) and Sudan (at least one).
At least 362 people were known to have been sentenced to death in 19 African countries: Uganda (114), Sudan (60), Democratic Republic of Congo (at least 50), Nigeria (at least 40), Ethiopia (39), Mali (at least 15), Chad (at least 12), Mauritania (8), Botswana (4), Ghana (3), Guinea (3), Sierra Leone (3), Gambia (2), Burkina Faso (1), Burundi (1), Niger (1), Kenya (+), Madagascar (+) and Tanzania (+).
In a particularly regressive move, Liberia reintroduced the death penalty for the crimes of robbery, terrorism and hijacking on 22 July 2008. Liberia reintroduced the death penalty despite being a party to Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In Nigeria, at least 40 new death sentences were handed down in 2008. This brings the total estimated number of people on death row to 735, including 11 women. Hundreds of those did not have a fair trial.
Approximately 140 people have been on death row in Nigeria for longer than 10 years; some for over 20 years. Around 80 were denied the right to an appeal as they were sentenced before 1999 by the Robbery and Firearms Tribunal. Approximately 40 were under the age of 18 at the time of the offence and should not have been sentenced to death. ***
In Europe and Central Asia
Europe has the potential to become the first death penalty-free region of the world. In 2008, only Belarus carried out executions (at least four) and sentenced to death at least one person. The Russian Federation has held a moratorium on executions and death sentences for more than 10 years but still needs to abolish the death penalty in law.
In Central Asia, there is a clear move towards abolition. Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan retained the death penalty when they gained independence in 1991. However, by December 2008 Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan had abolished the death penalty in law. Tajikistan has moratoria on executions and death sentences. ***