By Courtney Trenwith
Amnesty International believes there were far more than the 491 confirmed judicial executions carried out in the region last year
At least 491 people were judicially executed in the Middle East and North Africa during 2014, Amnesty International’s annual report on the death penalty has found.
The figure is 23 percent less than the 638 executions in 2013 but the region remains one of the worst for carrying out the death sentence.
The UAE, Jordan and Egypt resumed executions in 2014. Eight of the region’s 19 countries executed at least one prisoner in 2014.
Iran carried out the most executions in the region in 2014, with at least 289 confirmed, although Amnesty International said it believed there were at least 454 more.
Saudi Arabia beheaded at least 90 people last year, 11 more than in 2013, making it the third highest executioner in the world, according to Amnesty International.
Two of those judicially killed were women, an Ethiopian and a Nepali, both maids, while more than half were carried out for non-lethal crimes including witchcraft and sorcery.
There were at least 61 confirmed executions in Iraq, 22 in Yemen, 11 in Jordan, 2 in Palestine and one in the UAE, the report says.
It could not be confirmed if judicial executions took place in Oman and Syria.
Globally, Amnesty International recorded executions in 22 countries in 2014, the same number as in 2013, with at least 607, a decrease of almost 22 percent.
The figure does not include the number of people executed in China, where data on the death penalty is treated as a state secret, or suspected but unconfirmed judicial executions.
Also, at least 2,466 people were sentenced to death in 2014, an increase of 28 percent compared with 2013, mostly due to a dramatic rise in death sentences in Egypt and Nigeria, where courts imposed mass sentences, sometimes against hundreds of people in combined court cases.
Egypt sentenced 509 people to death, mostly members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Elsewhere in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia sentenced at least 44 people, followed by the UAE (22), Kuwait (7) and Qatar (2).
At least 19,094 people were believed to be under sentence of death worldwide at the end of 2014.
Amnesty International said it was alarmed at the number of countries who used the death penalty in response to real or perceived threats to state security and public safety posed by terrorism, crime or internal instability.
“There is no evidence that the death penalty has a greater deterrent effect on crime than terms of imprisonment,” the report says.
“Where governments present the death penalty as a solution to crime or insecurity they are not only misleading the public but – in many cases – failing to take steps to realize the goal of abolition recognized in international law.”
Amnesty International claimed in many cases, the death penalty had been used in contravention of international law, including after unfair trials, “confessions” extracted through torture or other ill-treatment, and against juveniles and people with mental or intellectual disabilities, and for non-lethal crimes.