“Instilling fear”, repression or political tool… What the alarming figures of the death penalty in 2022 reveal

In its report on the death penalty, Amnesty International notes that the number of executions throughout the world exploded last year. Topping the kill charts: China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Remember this figure: last year, in 2022, 883 people were executed in just 20 countries.
883 people. This is much more than the previous year. And it is even a record level, according to the Amnesty International report on the death penalty, unveiled on May 16, 2023. We have to go back to 2017 to find figures of such magnitude.

Every year, China is at the top of this sad list. Even if the secrecy which surrounds the data linked to the death penalty prevents NGOs or international institutions from accurately assessing the number of executions. It’s the same thing obviously in North Korea, but also in Vietnam.

The death penalty, a political tool

After China, come Iran and Saudi Arabia. In the Islamic Republic, killings increased by 83% between 2021 and 2022. There were 576 last year, according to Amnesty International. Most of them took place after the first demonstrations by women against the wearing of the veil, which began in September. If the mullahs’ regime applies the death penalty with a vengeance, it is because it is its guarantee of staying in power. He made it a tool of political repression by reinstating public hangings to “instill fear” and quash the popular uprising after the death of Mahsa Amini.

Human rights NGOs also accuse Tehran of having executed people who had only exercised their right to demonstrate. It should be noted that minorities such as Arabs, Kurds, Azeris or Baluchis are overrepresented and that having dual nationality does not protect against the fury of the authorities. An Iranian-Swedish and an Iranian-British have been executed in recent months despite international protests.

In Saudi Arabia, it’s the same iron fist: the number of executions has tripled, with 65 cases in 2021 compared to 196 last year. This is the highest level for 30 years. Riyadh mainly punishes those convicted of terrorism and drug trafficking, in mass mass beheadings: up to 81 prisoners in 24 hours last year, under extremely vague legislation, as a form of provocation to towards the abolitionist West.

New abolitionist countries

Despite this deadly panorama, there are reasons to hope in spite of everything: last year, six new countries completely or partially abolished the death penalty with Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea and four African countries: Sierra Leone , Central African Republic, Zambia and Equatorial Guinea.

In Zambia, the authorities took the opportunity to remove criminal defamation laws against the president, which were still being used to stifle freedom of expression. In Equatorial Guinea, NGOs welcome the abandonment of the death penalty (the last official execution dates back to 2014), but recall that the regime is regularly accused by the UN of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture.

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