10th October 2009 is the annual ‘World Day Against the Death Penalty.’

It’s a hot topic of debate around the world both with staunch supporters for and strong opposition against. The number of countries currently supporting the death sentence is below 25% and appears to be falling. China has by far the largest figures for execution but the exact number is considered a state secret, this being a familiar trend – although some countries are transparent most are not. Information therefore with regards to exact statistics is unknown and estimates can only be gained in an unofficial capacity some more reliable than others – inside reports from families, witnesses, government mediators and informers, lawyers, victims, various political and medical documents, publications, news and social media phone cameras internet sites and so on. Where the number of executions is unofficial a minimum figure has been used with a + sign. The figures used here are from amnesty.org and handsoffcain.org

1)    Of the world’s population over 60% live in a country with Capital Punishment

2)    In 2008, 26 countries carried out between an estimated 2,393+ executions.

3)    The 5 countries with the highest execution rate and making up 94% of all executions  in 2008 were

  • China 1,718+
  • Iran 346+
  • Saudi Arabia 102+
  • USA 37
  • Pakistan 36+

4)    The methods of execution currently in use are: Beheading – Electrocution – Hanging – Gas Chamber – Stoning – Firing Squad – Shooting – Lethal Injection

Methods of execution the process and who authorizes their use.

5)    With regards to the use of the death penalty countries & territories are categorized into 4 groups:

  • Abolitionist for all crimes – no death penalty by law applies in 95 countries. See List
  • Abolitionist for ordinary crimes – the death penalty may only be considered in exceptional cases applies to 10 countries. See List
  • Abolitionist in practice also known as ‘de facto abolitionist’ – the death penalty is retained in law but no executions have been carried out in the past 10 years, applicable in 35 countries. See List
  • Retentionist – the death penalty is practiced as part of common law and applied in 45 countries. See List

6)    Of the 45 retentionist countries 36 are dictatorial, authoritarian or illiberal states. Of the 10 remaining all are considered liberal democracies including the 6 who carried out executions in 2008 – USA, Japan, Indonesia, Botswana, St Kitts & Nevis and Mongolia.

7)    Some of the most recent moves towards the abolition of capital punishment have been:

  • Japan – on Sept 17, 2009 Capital Punishment was effectively suspended by the newly appointed Minister of Justice Keiko Chiba.
  • Kenya – Aug 03, 09 President Mwai Kibaki commuted all 4000 death sentences in the country to life in prison.
  • Uganda – in January 09 Uganda ruled that all death sentences should be commuted to life.
  • Lagos – Aug 09 commuted all death sentences to life.
  • Countries that abolished the death penalty in 2009 Burundi, Kazakhstan and Togo

8)    Some recent moves away from abolition:

  • St Kitts & Nevis did not carry out any executions for 10 years prior to 2008.
  • Thailand had not executed anyone for 6 years until Aug 24, 2009.

9)    After the handover from British rule to the People’s Republic of China in 1997 Hong Kong & Macau maintained their own legal systems which do not support the death penalty

10) The only country to carry out Capital Punishment in Europe is Belarus they consider the number of executions to be a state secret but it is known that at least 4 were carried out in 2008. The condemned are shot in the back of the head, no information is given to the prisoner or families with regards to the date of the killing – families are informed afterwards to collect belongings and the whereabouts of the bodies remains confidential to officials.

Chart showing all Retentionist countries and executions carried out in 2008 + population figures.

Chart showing retentionist countries last execution.

see also quotes in support of DP and quotes against the DP

Sources: reprieve.org.uk  stopchildexecutions.com  Wikipedia.org  Geography.about.com  stop-stoning.com  deathpenaltyinfo.org

Beheading is exclusive to Saudi Arabia, with 100 carried out in 2008. The executions usually take place without prior notice to the accused, their hands are tied before being taken to the nearest public place to where the crime was committed – and near to the largest Mosque. They are forced to kneel before the executioner with cries of Allahu Akbar [God is great] as he draws his sword. Sometimes beheading is followed by a public display such as putting the body on a cross – as happened in the Saudi capital Riyadh in May 09.

Hanging. The most humane form is considered to be ‘the long drop’ where a person is pre- measured and weighed in order to calculate the distance of drop so that the spinal cord in the neck [C1 & C2] is broken and death occurs at least within a few minutes. Failure to calculate correctly can cause either slow death [too short] by strangulation or decapitation [too long].

Countries that mostly execute by hanging are: Afghanistan Bangladesh, Botswana, Iraq, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, St Kitts & Nevis, Sudan.USA – In Washington it is available for prisoners who have requested it, and in New Hampshire if lethal injection is not an option.

Iran uses the automotive telescoping crane, which hoists the condemned up who is then slowly strangled by the noose; loss of consciousness taking up to 9 minutes and death up to 45 minutes. It is the most usual method of punishment taking place in public and often en masse – it may also be combined with flogging and amputation of limbs beforehand.
Stoning. There is a specific penal code regarding stoning: the condemned person is wrapped in white shrouds and buried in a pit. Men are buried up to their waists and women to their breasts. The stones used should not be large enough to kill the person in 1 or 2 strikes or be too small to cause an injury. If the person can escape they will be freed – ‘which is very unlikely, particularly for a woman with just her head and shoulders above the ground.’

Where is stoning legal?

Nigeria – issued deaths by stoning in 2008.  Iran – 2 men stoned to death Dec 25th 2008, and 1 in March 05th 2009. Somalia – a 13 year old girl stoned to death for adultery Oct 27 2008. On 17th Sept 09 Indonesia passed a new law to allow stoning. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Iraq also maintain the law for stoning.

Source: stop-stoning.org

Firing squad. The process varies from country to country so this is a general overview:

3-6 soldiers or peace officers fire simultaneously at the condemned, who may be strapped to a post or chair or lined up against a wall, they may be hooded or blindfolded in some instances a rock will be put in the mouth to stop any shouting. The shooters then aim at the heart for up to three rounds if this is unsuccessful they may also be shot in the head at close range or left to bleed to death.

The firing squad has been used in 2008 and 2009 in carrying out executions in Bahrain, United Arab Emirates [preferred], Indonesia [preferred], Iran, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. The US state of Oklahoma authorizes this method which is reserved should the electric chair or lethal injection be deemed unconstitutional.

Shooting. China uses shooting reportedly in about half of all cases, mostly with a single shot to the back of the head or the heart from close range, the shootings may also be carried out en masse by firing squads.

Lethal Injection. China introduced lethal injection as a more humane form of execution in 1997. Creating mobile execution vans that travel to the area of the crime and that are equipped to facilitate death by injection. Critics, fuelled by the authorities refusal to allow anyone access to the bodies after execution, say that the switch to lethal injection is motivated not by human rights but rather by the illegal trade in prisoners organs.

United States
Lethal injection is used in all 36 states that apply the death penalty and by the military and Federal Government. There has been considerable controversy surrounding the use of lethal injection since its first use in1982. The US Supreme Court ordering a suspension of its use in Sept 07 after cases of slow and apparently painful deaths had occurred. The debate was whether lethal injection was considered to be a cruel and unusual punishment; the conclusion made was that the amount of pain and risk involved in lethal injection whilst unpleasant and worthy of elimination was not a violation of the constitution but rather inevitable. The suspension was subsequently lifted in April 2008.

The latest controversy has surrounded the failed execution of Rommel Brown in Ohio on Sept 15th 09 where staff after numerous efforts were unable to locate a suitable vein and abandoned the attempt after 2 hours. The execution was re- scheduled for the following week until a temporary restraining order was issued prohibiting a 2nd attempt unless a new motion was filed.

Electrocution. Confined to the US only 9 states maintain the use of the electric chair; Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. It may be offered to inmates as an alternative to lethal injection or used should lethal injection be considered unconstitutional.

The process involves the prisoners head & right leg to be shaved, they are then strapped into the electric chair, a wet sponge with covering skull cap placed on their head and an electrode placed on the leg when done they are blindfolded and up to 2000 volts sent through them for 30 seconds, if the process fails it is repeated until death occurs. The process may be viewed by a selected audience who are briefed beforehand. The procedure can cause violent movement of limbs, defecation and urination, vomiting of blood, the eyeballs to pop out, steam and smoke to rise from the person and the head to catch on fire.

The Gas Chamber. Now generally confined to the US, 5 states approve of its use; Arizona, California, Maryland and Missouri offer it as an alternative to lethal injection and Wyoming maintains it in case lethal injection is banned. The offender is strapped to a chair in a specially designed chamber and advised to take deep breaths to quicken the process – which they typically don’t. When the released gases – sulfuric acid and sodium cyanide react they produce hydrogen cyanide depriving the heart of oxygen inducing a heart attack type pain in the condemned for several minutes until death.