April 6 — Amnesty International has released its 2015 global report on the death penalty.
2015 saw 1634 executions, the highest number of since 1989, most of which took place in Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Executions in Iran topped the list at 977, most of which were for drug-related crimes and included juvenile offenders, in contravention of international law. The Amnesty report excludes China, which does not reveal its statistics, but which is believed to executive thousands each year. (On 4/19/16, International Business Times reported that China has set the threshold for the death penalty in cases of fraud at three million yuan — $463,000.)
Balancing this news is that four countries moved to abolish the death penalty in 2015: Madagascar, Fiji, Suriname, and Congo. In addition, Mongolia has adopted a new criminal code that will end the death penalty in September of this year.
Here in the US, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf placed a moratorium on executions in February 2015 pending review by a task force and in the process reprieving 5 death row prisoners during the year. In December the PA Supreme Court upheld Gov. Wolf’s authority to take this action, though the death penalty statute remains and the moratorium cannot go on indefinitely. Overall, however, the US is fifth on the list of world countries that executes its citizens, with 28 executions and 53 death sentences in 2015. Japan is the only other “first world” country that continues to use the death penalty, executing 4 people in 2015.
Overall, 102 countries — half of the world — have abolished the death penalty. If we include countries that no longer use it in practice but have yet to remove the statutes, that percentage rises to two-thirds of the world.