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Report: Executions Increased in 2011 due to Arab Spring

US ranked fifth in executions with 43 in 2011, Amnesty International reports

Common Dreams staff

A Texas death chamber. The United States ranks fifth in executions according to Amnesty International's annual death penalty report. (photo: Getty Images)

Amnesty International has released its annual report on executions and the death penalty and found that executions were up in 2011. The increase, accoring to the report, is largely due to the reaction of Middle Eastern states to the Arab Spring.  In total there were 678 reported executions in 2011 (though Amnesty International suggests that many executions in China and Iran go unreported).

In the Middle East, there was a 50 percent increase in executions as a result of widespread use of capital punishment in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Those four countries accounted for 99 percent of all executions in the Middle East, the report said.

Overall, the death penalty is being used by less countries than ever before, the report finds. Only 20 of 198 nations -- or 10 percent -- still use capital punishment. 

“The vast majority of countries have moved away from using the death penalty,” said Salil Shetty Secretary General of Amnesty International, in a press release. “Our message to the leaders of the isolated minority of countries that continue to execute is clear: you are out of step with the rest of the world on this issue and it is time you took steps to end this most cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. “

The United States ranked fifth in the world in capital punishment, with 43 executions in 2011. "If you look at the company we're in globally, it's not the company we want to be in: China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq," Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, told The Associated Press.

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Arab spring leads to wave of Middle East state executions (The UK Guardian)


Middle Eastern countries have stepped up their use of capital punishment, executing hundreds of people as rulers across the region seek to deter the wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab countries.

Despite a significant reduction in the number of countries that used the death penalty worldwide last year, there was a sharp rise in executions in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Yemen, according to Amnesty International's annual capital punishment survey, released on Tuesday.

China remained at the top of the list of the countries with the worst record of executions last year. Authorities in China maintained their policy of refusing to release precise figures on the death penalty in the country, which they consider a state secret.

Amnesty said it had stopped publishing figures on China, available from public sources, because they were likely to "grossly underestimate" the true number, but reported that the country had executed thousands of people, more than the rest of the world put together. According to Amnesty, at least 676 judicial executions are known to have been carried out in 2011 globally, excluding China, up from 527 in 2010. More than half took place in Iran, which executed at least 360 people. But reports about the regime's campaign of secret and mass hangings of prisoners have made it impossible for Amnesty to publish the true figures there too.

"Amnesty has also received credible reports that a large number of unacknowledged executions took place in Iran, executions that would almost double the number of 'official' ones there," it said. In December, Amnesty warned of a "new wave of drug offence executions" in Iran, which it described as a "killing spree of staggering proportions" in an effort to contain drug-related crimes.

Saudi Arabia executed at least 82 people, which was 55 more than the minimum known figure for the previous year. Iraq, which had acknowledged only one execution in 2010, used the death penalty at least 68 times in 2011. Yemen executed at least 41, North Korea 30, Somalia 10, Sudan seven and Bangladesh five. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are known to have executed at least one person, but exact numbers were unknown for Malaysia and especially for Syria, which has been rocked by violence in the past year.

The escalating use of the death penalty in the Middle East is seen as a tactic by the authorities to spread fear among dissidents in order to prevent them from participating in pro-democracy movements. On a more positive note, fewer countries are resorting to the death penalty – 20 in 2011, down from 31 a decade ago, Amnesty said. The United States has significantly reduced execution numbers, but still put 43 people to death last year.

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Report: US Ranks 5th in Global Executions (The Associated Press):

The United States was the only Western democracy that executed prisoners last year, even as an increasing number of U.S. states are moving to abolish the death penalty, Amnesty International announced Monday.

America's 43 executions in 2011 ranked it fifth in the world in capital punishment, the rights group said in its annual review of worldwide death penalty trends. U.S. executions were down from 46 a year earlier. "If you look at the company we're in globally, it's not the company we want to be in: China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq," Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, told The Associated Press.

The United States seems deeply divided on the issue.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was cheered at a Republican presidential candidates' debate last September when he defended his signature on 234 execution warrants over more than 10 years as being the "ultimate justice."

Just weeks later, young people rallied in person and online to protest the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia for the 1991 murder of a police officer. In the intervening years, key witnesses for the prosecution had recanted or changed their stories. "I think the debate on the issue may be nearing a tipping point in this country," Nossel said. "I think we're seeing momentum at the state level, in the direction of waning support for the death penalty."

Illinois banned the death penalty last year, and Oregon adopted a moratorium on executions.

Maryland and Connecticut are close to banning executions, Amnesty said. And more than 800,000 Californians signed petitions to put a referendum on the state ballot in November that would abolish the death penalty.

However, 34 U.S. states have the death penalty.

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