More death sentences but fewer executions last year

Last year, 28% more people were sentenced to death globally than the year before.

This rise was described as "alarming" by Amnesty International as the organisation released its death penalty statistics for 2014 on Tuesday night. It said the spike in death sentenced imposed - to 2 466 in 2014 compared with 1 925 in 2013 - was largely due to countries using capital punishment to combat crime and terrorism.

Nigeria and Egypt were leading contributors to the increase, with the number of death sentences in the two African countries rising by more than 500 and 400 respectively last year.

Though the imposition of the death sentence rose, the number of executions dropped by more than 20% from 778 in 2013 to 607 in 2014, the report said.

However, these figures excluded China, which carried out more executions that the rest of the world combined, the report said.

Twenty-two countries carried out executions last year compared with 41 in 1995 when the Constitutional Court abolished capital punishment in South Africa.

Only one South African is currently awaiting a death sentence elsewhere in the world. He is Deon Cornelius, who was sentenced to death in January in Malaysia.

He was found guilty of trying to smuggle nearly 2kg methamphetamine into that country in a laptop bag when he arrived on a flight from Singapore. His sentence is currently under appeal.

Department of International Relations and Cooperation spokesman Clayson Monyela said on Tuesday that the government can only take action against Cornelius's sentence once his appeals are exhausted and the death penalty is upheld.

When a death sentence is handed down to a South African, the government can only plead for clemency on the the convicted citizen's behalf but cannot interfere with another state's sovereignty in line with international law, Monyela said.

He said that he believed the global success rate in pleading for clemency was close to zero.

But Patricia Gerber of Locked Up, an organisation campaigning for the rights of South Africans in foreign prisons, said the government is simply not doing enough abroad and at home.

“I believe the government did nothing to save Janice Linden [a Durban woman who was executed in China in 2011 for smuggling drugs]. Until she died she maintained her innocence,” Gerber said.

“The problem is the alleged [drug-related] crimes all started on South African soil. This is where [drug mules and decoys] are recruited and where [aeroplane] tickets are booked. Drug lords recruit freely here,” Gerber said.

In 2014, little information was reported on the use capital punishment by Malaysia, Amnesty International said. The report does, however, confirm that Malaysia carried out at least two executions and handed down 38 death sentences - 16 of which were for drug trafficking - last year.


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