Middle East tops death penalty list with 'gruesome tally' of executions
LONDON - Iran carried out more than half of all recorded executions in 2017, a new report from Amnesty International revealed on Thursday. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are responsible for carrying out 85 percent of all reported death sentences worldwide, the report said.
The figures show that the Middle East and North Africa accounted for 847 of 933 reported death sentences carried out worldwide in 2017.
This was despite an overall decrease of 1 percent in executions across the region against figures from 2016, the report said.
Figures for China, where thousands are thought to be executed every year, were not recorded.
The report also does not include figures for executions in Libya and Syria, where militant groups are thought to be responsible for thousands of extra-judicial killings.
Lucy Wake, Amnesty International UK's government and political relations manager, told MEE: "Aside from China, the bulk of the world’s executions are taking place in the Middle East, which sets an important challenge for the UK’s foreign policy towards the region.
“With countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain all appearing in this gruesome tally of Middle Eastern states executing prisoners - many after unfair trials - the UK needs to ensure that abolition of the death penalty is a key part of its Middle East foreign goals.
“As well as condemning executions, we need to see the UK speaking out more often and more critically when it comes to things like torture and unfair trials in Saudi Arabia, especially when these abuses are leading to scores of people being beheaded in public squares every year.”
The figures show that Iran executed at least 507 people, accounting for 60 percent of all confirmed executions in the region.
“Basic fair trial guarantees” were absent in the country, and death penalty cases often relied on “confessions” extracted under torture, the report said.
More than 200 executions took place in Iran for drug trafficking, despite an amendment to the country's drugs law - which passed last November - to increase the threshold for mandatory death sentences for drug offences.
A further 59 executions were carried out for drug-related offences across the region, the report added.
Saudi Arabia executed 146 people in 2017, a modest decrease from the 2016 figure, according to the rights group. Seventy-eight of the executions were for murder, four for terrorism-related acts and 59 were for drug-related offences.
The group said that many defendants were sentenced to death “after unfair trials by courts that convicted them without adequately investigating allegations of coerced 'confessions,' including confessions obtained under torture”.
The bulk of the executions were carried out after Mohammed Bin Salman was appointed crown prince in July, figures from rights group Reprieve suggest.
Bin Salman has presented himself as a reformer, but in a recent interview with CBS News, during a visit to the US, he said: “We believe in the notion of human rights, but ultimately Saudi standards are not the same as American standards.”
“On average, the Saudi authorities currently execute someone more or less every two days," Wake told MEE. "Though rulers like Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman trumpet supposed ‘reforms’ - Saudi executioners are as busy now as they were two years ago."
At least 125 executions were carried out in Iraq, compared to 88 in 2016, all by authorities in central Iraq.
The death penalty continued to be used as “tool of retribution in response to public outrage” over attacks by the Islamic State (IS) group, Amnesty International said. This includes a mass execution carried out on 25 September, 11 days after an IS suicide attack in Nasiriyah, which killed at least 84 people.
Egypt executed 35 people last year, and with 402 people sentenced to death compared to at least 237 in 2016, it handed down the majority of death sentences in the region.
The report also expressed the group's concern that Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates all resumed executions in 2017.
On 25 January 2017, Kuwait executed seven people - the first death penalty carried out since 2013. Similarly in Bahrain, three men were killed in the first executions there since 2010. Amnesty said that the trials of Ali Abdulshaheed al-Sankis, Sami Mirza Mshaima and Abbas Jamil Taher Mhammad al-Samea failed to meet international standards.
The men were executed by firing squad, and Amnesty said their lawyers did not have access to all of the evidence against them.
Sayed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), told MEE: "The extra-judicial execution of three men last year was a heinous crime, a disproportionate punishment, which relied on torture. The execution was signed by King Hamad, and the blood-stained clothes of the executed men were handed to their families, an action usually taken by members of a mafia, not a state."
He added that Bahrain had handed down 15 death sentences in 2017 alone, which was "the highest number in a single year since the modern courts were established in Bahrain in 1923".
In the Gaza Strip, authorities carried out executions of six men - three for "collaboration with Israeli authorities".
They were carried out without the Palestinian president's approval in violation of Palestinian Basic Law (constitution).