The use of the death penalty last year increased dramatically in countries closely allied to the UK, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, according to new figures collated by human rights organization Reprieve.
The governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan both oversaw unprecedented numbers of executions. The Pakistani authorities hanged some 322 people after reinstating the death penalty in December 2014 – making it the world’s third most prolific executioner. Saudi Arabia killed 158 people in 2015, in comparison with approximately 88 in 2014. The Saudi authorities went on to begin 2016 with a mass execution of 47 prisoners on Saturday (2nd). Those killed included Sheikh Nimr, a well-known activist and critic of the government, and three young men arrested for attending protests.
China was believed to have topped the list of executioners in 2015, killing over 1,000 people, although exact figures are a state secret. Iran followed close behind, with nearly 1,000 hangings – a marked increase from 2014.
Executions took place amid concerns over juvenile arrests, unfair trials and the use of police torture to extract statements. In Saudi Arabia, there are fears that three juveniles arrested for attending protests – Ali al-Nimr, Dawoud al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher – could be next in line for execution, despite having been tortured into ‘confessing.’
The UK government is known to have signed security and justice-related cooperation agreements with both the Saudi and Pakistani governments – support that includes funding for Pakistani counter-narcotics forces, whose arrests have led to death sentences. Last night, Tobias Ellwood was repeatedly asked by MPs to publish secret Foreign Office and Home Office cooperation agreements with the Saudi government, and to condemn that government’s executions. However, he refused to do so.
Concerns have also been raised about the UK’s commitment to preventing executions, after it emerged the government had abandoned its previous strategy for the abolition of the death penalty.
Commenting, Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “Over the last year execution rates accelerated dramatically in both Iran and Saudi Arabia, while Pakistan embarked on an unprecedented execution spree that saw more than 300 people hanged. All three countries handed down death sentences to children, the mentally ill, and people convicted of non-lethal offences – from political protest in Saudi Arabia to drug offences in Pakistan to ‘crimes against God’ in Iran.
“Despite these alarming spikes in the use of capital punishment, 2015 saw the British Government abandon its commitment to fight the death penalty overseas, while providing millions in funding for brutal police forces which send non-lethal offenders to death row. Reprieve is now calling for the Government to publish a proper plan to fight the death penalty abroad, and freeze support for foreign police forces whose raids enable executions”.
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad . She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.