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Death penalty down in 2010 but still widespread

Death penalty down in 2010 but still widespread
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What links China, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran to the United States?

The first group of countries are known for their “difficulties” in respecting human rights while the US likes to see itself as a model of democracy.

Yet, they are all among the world’s most prolific “executioners.”

Amnesty International has published its annual report on capital punishment worldwide. It says the total number of executions recorded in 2010 fell to at least 527 from at least 714 the previous year.

“The world is moving in the right direction,” said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s, EU office. “We are seeing a lot more support for abolition. We have had one more country, Gabon in Africa, which has abolished the death penalty but we are also seeing some significant setbacks. The worst offenders in the world are still China, by far the world leader in executions, but also the United States of America, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran.”

Amid secrecy over the statistics from China, there is no precise figure from Amnesty on the number of executions in the country. But it says that in 2010 thousands were put to death there, their fate often decided in summary trials for non-violent offences including tax fraud. Beijing says that for this crime, at least, the death penalty is being scrapped.

Worldwide, 96 countries have abolished capital punishment. It is legal but not carried out in practice by 34 nations but more than 50 others do still put people to death.

They include Saudi Arabia where, last year, some 27 executions were recorded, the US where the figure was 46, at least 252 in Iran and thousands in China.

On the whole, use of capital punishment has declined in the US over the past decade. Just this month, Illinois became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty. But it is still used in many other states and Amnesty says at least 110 death sentences were handed down in the US, last year alone.

Iran is strongly suspected by the group of playing down the real number of people it executes. Death by hanging can be used for everything from serious offences to homosexuality. Young men, sometimes teenagers, are put to death for this so-called “crime.”