Death Penalty Worldwide


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3 posts from August 2012


Gambia Executes Nine Prisoners After 31-Year Moratorium

A spokesman for the government of Gambia has confirmed that Gambia has executed nine prisoners on death row.  In a statement earlier this month, President Yahya Jammeh had vowed to execute all death row prisoners in coming weeks.    Press reports indicate that one of the nine prisoners executed was a woman and two were Senegalese nationals.  According to Amnesty International, three of the prisoners had been sentenced to death for treason.  The BBC reports that there are 36 individuals who remain on death row. 

 Prior to this spate of executions, Gambia was considered an abolitionist de facto state by the United Nations because it had not carried out any executions in the last 10 years.  Although it had not carried out any executions since 1981,  however, Gambian courts continued to hand down death sentences, primarily for political crimes.  In 2011, a number of individuals were sentenced to death in Gambia for treason—after reportedly unfair trials—and seven out of eight individuals sentenced to death in 2010 were convicted of political crimes.  Moving forward with executions after over three decades without executions represents a step backwards in the arena of human rights, and any executions for political crimes might also violate international law.

Omar Jallow, oppositionist leader of the People’s Progressive Party in Gambia, has called on the Government to stop the executions, exhorting “all Gambians including our religious leaders and political leaders and people who lead non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations [to] put pressure on him so that such statements and such acts will not be carried ahead [so that] there would be no executions in the Gambia.”

--Sandra Babcock and Anna Jackson


Japan Executes Two Prisoners on Authorization of New Justice Minister

Two executions were carried out by the Japanese government on August 3. These are the first executions to be authorized by the current Minister of Justice, Makoto Taki, who took office in June of this year. This is the second set of executions to take place in Japan this year, bringing Japan’s total number of executions in 2012 to five. Japan typically carries out executions in cases  involving murder with aggravating circumstances or murder carried out with other felonies. Consistent with that practice, one of the prisoners executed yesterday had been convicted of the rape and murder of a 19-year-old girl, while the other had been convicted of murdering two relatives. Japan did not carry out any executions in 2011.

Japan is defined as a retentionist state by the United Nations, which means that it has carried out executions in the last 10 years. Only seven executions have been carried out by the Japanese government since the Democratic Party of Japan took control in 2009, and 2011 was the first year since 1992 in which no executions took place. In Japan, there are currently over 130 inmates on death row. Japan voted against the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution on the use of the death penalty in 2007, 2008 and 2010.Japan and the United States of America are the only two industrialized democratic nations that continue to carry out executions. Moreover, there has not been much public, open debate around the ethics of capital punishment in Japan. A 2010 government survey showed that 85% of the Japanese public agrees with retaining capital punishment as it is practiced. This public support for capital punishment is often invoked to justify its implementation by the Government of Japan. The executive director of Amnesty International in Japan, Hideki Wakabayashi, said in a statement last year that “the concept of human rights in Japan is narrow. It is important to view human rights from a broad angle…and to change the definition and image of human rights.” Considering the high rate of public approval for the death penalty in Japan, it will take much public debate, government cooperation and advocacy by NGOs before we see significant movement away from capital punishment.

--Anna Jackson



Malaysia Considers Exempting Drug Mules from the Mandatory Death Penalty

On July 14, following the announcement of Singapore’s plans to ease its mandatory death penalty for low-level drug couriers, Malaysia’s Attorney General declared that he was also considering introducing discretionary sentencing for drug mules.  Drug trafficking has been a crime in Malaysia since 1952, but it was not until 1983 that the death penalty became the mandatory sentence for anyone convicted of involvement with trafficking.  Under the proposed amendments to the 1952 Dangerous Drug Act, the court would retain the ability to sentence a drug courier to death, but would also be able to consider mitigating factors and hand down an alternative sentence. Attorney General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail also stated that if the amendment is implemented, “those on death row would be referred back to the courts, with legal representation to be resentenced.” The death penalty would still be mandatory for other drug offenses, such as involvement in the supply or distribution aspects of trafficking.

Malaysia is a retentionist state according to the UN definition, meaning that it has carried out executions in the last 10 years. The last execution in Malaysia took place in 2011, according to Amnesty International, but given the secrecy surrounding executions, little is known about the application of the death penalty.  Malaysia has consistently voted against the United Nations General Assembly’s proposal to institute a global moratorium on executions.

The mandatory death penalty for drug-related crimes is a contentious issue in Singapore and Malaysia. In 2011, the Malaysian Bar Association, Members of Parliament and six non-governmental organizations met at a public forum to commemorate World Day Against the Death Penalty. They discussed the relevance and efficacy of their laws as well as their compliance with international human rights standards, under which the mandatory death penalty is illegal. Earlier this year, the Malaysian Bar Association also unanimously passed a mandate calling for abolition of the death penalty and for life imprisonment to replace it. Under pressure from its civil society and with the influence of Singapore’s initiative to relax its strict sentencing scheme, the Malaysian government may bring its laws closer to international human rights standards. Abolishing the mandatory death penalty for certain crimes is a significant first step towards this goal.

You can read Death Penalty Worldwide’s research about the death penalty in Malaysia here.

-- Anna Jackson