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.
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