Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network

An article – Which countries still have the death penalty?

  • Death penalty

Which countries still have the death penalty?

Many of the world’s nations still have the death penalty, so who’s doing the executing and how?

By Yan Zhuang

I don’t know if I deserve to live, but I do know that I don’t deserve to die, for everything and everyone around me, for the future, and for others that might be in the same predicament as I am in now.”

So wrote Pannir Selvam Pranthaman on his 32nd birthday, in a letter published by news website Malaysiakini on July 31, as he languished in a cell in Singapore’s Changi prison.

Convicted of smuggling 50 grams of cocaine, Pannir Selvam is one of at least 10 people the Singapore government is preparing to execute, with the inmates’ advocates fearing an imminent “bloodbath”.

Meanwhile, the United States government is gearing up to resume executions at a federal level for the first time in 16 years, with Attorney-General William Barr directing five inmates be put to death by lethal injection.

News of the planned killings, slated for December and January, has deepened the rift between US President Donald Trump, a staunch death penalty supporter, and Democratic politicians, who mostly oppose it.

And Sri Lanka has hired two hangmen in a bid to reboot its death penalty after a 43-year moratorium, as part of a war against drugs.

With strongmen on the rise around the world, and many countries moving to shore up their law-and-order regimes, is the death penalty making a comeback?

Which countries use the death penalty and which don’t?

Just over half the countries in the world – 106 – no longer had the death penalty by 2018, according to Amnesty International.

Another 28 have the death penalty on the books but have not executed anyone for at least the past 10 years, including Russia, South Korea and Papua New Guinea. Eight more, including Brazil and Israel, execute people only for “exceptional” crimes such as those committed under military law.

This leaves 56 countries who execute criminals.

Not including in China, more than 600 people were put to death in 2018. The highest number of executions was in China, although its actual rates of execution are a state secret. Amnesty International estimates thousands of people are executed there each year.

The next most enthusiastic practitioners were Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam, which killed more than 85 people in 2018, more than any other country in South-east Asia, and which has more than 600 people on death row.


The United States also regularly ranks in the top five. This year so far, 10 men have been executed across five states.

Executions slowly increased annually from 2009 until 2015, when they soared from at least 1061 to 1634, according to Amnesty International. A big contributor was Pakistan lifting its moratorium on the death penalty following a terrorist attack on a school, and executing 326 people in that year alone. The numbers dropped again in 2016 and have been declining since, with 2018 recording the smallest number of estimated executions in the past 10 years.

North Korea is another unknown quantity. Reports of executions abound, although, occasionally at least, the dead come back to life. In May 2018, media worldwide reported that a high-profile government negotiator had been executed over the failure of talks between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. However, days later, a South Korean legislator stated that the official was still alive and North Korean media published a photo of him standing beside Kim Jong-un.

What are the methods used?

Hanging was the most common in 2018, deployed in countries including Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Pakistan, Sudan and Singapore, where Melbourne man Nguyen Tuong Van was put to death for drug trafficking in 2005.

Shooting was the next most popular, used in countries including Belarus, China, Somalia, Yemen and Taiwan. Indonesia uses firing squads, as Australians witnessed with the death of drug traffickers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan in 2015.


After that comes lethal injection, also used in China as well as Thailand and Vietnam and favoured by the United States, where its use has been mired in controversy.

In 2011, a drug used in executions stopped being made in the US, and its import was blocked by the country’s food and drug authority. Some states tried to obtain it illegally while others tried other drugs.

Amid a slew of lethal injection executions that critics said were botched, inmates sued states, putting executions in some places on hold for years. One inmate was granted execution by electric chair in November.

Beheading, sometimes publicly, is the main method in Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty International received two reports of women being sentenced to death by stoning for adultery in Iran but was not able to independently verify them.

Where is the death penalty being used more?

Killings in Singapore have spiked, from two inmates in 2014 to 13 last year, 11 of them for drug trafficking.

In Sri Lanka, no one has been executed for 43 years but in February, the government advertised for hangmen with “excellent moral character” after President Maithripala Sirisena signalled his determination to step up the war on drugs. The country’s last hangman, who was never pressed into service, quit in 2014.

Two new hangmen were hired in June, as Sirisena signed death warrants for four drug offenders. But the Supreme Court, which has banned any executions until October 30, is considering whether death by hanging breaches the country’s constitution by being a “cruel and degrading punishment”.


In Egypt, a handful of people were executed in the six years before 2014, when Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took power. But, between 2014 and 2018, at least 159 people were put to death, part of a broader crackdown against Islamists and supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Reuters reported an increase in the use of military courts. Sisi is a former general.

And last year Thailand carried out its first execution since 2009 and has an estimated 551 people facing the death penalty.

Death-penalty chamber chairs before their removal from San Quentin State Prison in California, where a moratorium was placed on the death penalty in March.
Death-penalty chamber chairs before their removal from San Quentin State Prison in California, where a moratorium was placed on the death penalty in March.Credit:California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP

Where is the death penalty being wound down?

Iran has killed fewer people lately. In 2015, it executed at least 977 people and in 2017 it executed more than 500, but after it removed the death penalty for some drug-related crimes the numbers halved to an estimated 253 in 2018.

Malaysia suspended the executions of inmates on death row in October but backtracked in March, saying death would no longer be a mandatory penalty for some offences but would instead be left to judges to impose.

The gang rape of a photojournalist prompted these protests in 2013. Five years later, India applied the death penalty for rapists of girls under 12.
The gang rape of a photojournalist prompted these protests in 2013. Five years later, India applied the death penalty for rapists of girls under 12.Credit:AP

What crimes attract the death penalty?

Next to murder, drug offences are the most common crime punishable by death. People were executed for drug-related crimes in China, Iran, Singapore and Saudi Arabia last year, and were sentenced in a host of countries including Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kuwait, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

Someone can be sentenced to death for economic crimes, including corruption, in China, Iran and Vietnam, and for kidnapping in Iran and Iraq. In Saudi Arabia, torture and rape are also punishable by death.

Various forms of treason and crimes against the state are punishable by death in China, Iran, Lebanon, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and under the Palestinian Authority (with most executions taking place in the Hamas-administered Gaza Strip).

Last year, India expanded the scope of its death penalty to include rape of girls under 12 years old.

In Pakistan, Christians pray for Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother on death row for blasphemy in Multan. She was acquitted.
In Pakistan, Christians pray for Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother on death row for blasphemy in Multan. She was acquitted.Credit:AP

Where does the death sentence exist, unofficially?

In a small handful of countries, the crime of blasphemy is punishable by death either by law or in practice.

In Pakistan, the case of Asia Bibi made headlines when the Christian mother of five was sentenced to death by hanging in 2010 over a dispute with some Muslim women over a glass of water, during which she was accused of making derogatory remarks against the prophet Muhammad. In October, the country’s Supreme Court acquitted her on appeal.

While this means that no one charged with blasphemy has been put to death in Pakistan, many have been murdered before their trial or after their release.

In the Philippines, the death penalty was suspended in 2006 but under President Rodrigo Duterte extrajudicial killings have been rampant.

Duterte was swept into power in 2016 after campaigning hard against drug trafficking, threatening to personally kill drug dealers and urging citizens to do the same.

The official death toll of his war on drugs is more than 5500, according to the government, but the Philippines Human Rights Commission fears as many as 27,000 people have been killed.

Duterte is now calling on the government to reinstate the death penalty for drug traffickers, with the matter being debated by the Philippines parliament.

What’s next in Singapore?

The Singaporean government does not announce executions before they happen. Executions are usually carried out at 6am on Fridays, says a Singapore writer, when most of the country is still asleep.

The fate of Pannir Selvam Pranthaman and the other inmates on death row in Changi prison remains to be seen but he is not giving up hope: “I am humbly requesting to everyone who reads this to save my life and give me a second chance.” – Sydney Morning Herald, 2/8/2019

Hong Kong – Extradition Agreements and Death Penalty?

#Extradition agreements may result in persons being sent back subsequently being charged tried and sentenced to death. Hong Kong, at present no extradition if it is political in nature and the requesting country need give an undertaking that the death penalty will not imposed…which is difficult if national laws provide for the death penalty.

Hong Kong is considering changing the law on transferring fugitives – so how are extraditions dealt with now, and why are there no deals with mainland China, Taiwan and Macau?

  • If proposal becomes law, there will be an extradition arrangement between Hong Kong and the mainland for the first time
  • But legal experts caution such a change could also affect existing arrangements with other jurisdictions
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 February, 2019, 8:20am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 February, 2019, 9:39pm

The proposal by the Security Bureau is the latest response to a high-profile case in Taiwan, involving a Hongkonger accused by the authorities there of murdering his pregnant girlfriend last February before fleeing to Hong Kong.

Chan Tong-kai, 19, was arrested in Hong Kong, but is facing charges related only to having his dead girlfriend’s bank card, cash and other possessions.

He has not been sent to Taiwan, despite requests from the authorities there, because there is no formal extradition agreement between the two places.

If the bureau’s proposal becomes law, there will be an extradition arrangement between Hong Kong and the mainland for the first time. Legal experts caution that such a change could also affect existing extradition arrangements with other jurisdictions.

How are extradition requests handled now?

Hong Kong has signed mutual extradition agreements with 20 countries, including the United States, Britain, Canada and neighbouring jurisdictions such as the Philippines and Singapore. Every new agreement negotiated between Hong Kong and a different country must be approved by the city’s lawmakers.

When a foreign country makes an extradition request, Hong Kong’s chief executive must decide whether to issue an arrest warrant. Among other things, the city’s leader must consider if the accused person’s alleged action would be considered a crime in Hong Kong as well, and be satisfied that the case was not of a political nature.

If the crime the person is accused of carries the death penalty in the jurisdiction requesting extradition, the country must undertake not to impose the death penalty if the suspect is sent back.

If an arrest warrant is issued, the fugitive is allowed to oppose the order in a Hong Kong court.

Aside from extraditing wanted individuals, Hong Kong also provides criminal legal assistance to 32 countries, for instance, by handing over evidence, with decisions made by the secretary for justice.

Why is there no extradition to the mainland, Taiwan and Macau?

Hong Kong’s two main laws governing the transfer of fugitives and providing help in criminal cases – the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance – have expressly excluded China. Macau and Taiwan are also excluded.

On a discretionary basis, mainland authorities have handed over to Hong Kong fugitives accused of violating the city’s laws. But this has only been an administrative arrangement, and Hong Kong has never reciprocated.

The former deputy director of public prosecutions, John Reading SC, said the major obstacle in reaching an agreement with the mainland was the death penalty in its legal system. Other signatories were prepared to give Hong Kong the assurance in their respective agreements that they would not impose the death penalty if a fugitive was extradited.

“I really can’t believe that China would agree to give an undertaking not to impose the death penalty if somebody is to be extradited to China,” he said.

Hong Kong and the mainland have moved closer in recognising civil and commercial verdicts by each other’s courts.

In recent years, the mainland’s judiciary has also raised the issue of the absence of mutual legal agreements on cross-border criminal cases. In 2017, the former vice-president of the Supreme People’s Court, Shen Deyong, mentioned the issue in a speech in Hong Kong.

After the two sides signed a reciprocal arrangement on enforcing judgments in civil cases, a spokesman of the Supreme People’s Court said there was a need to also “resolve the void in criminal legal assistance between Hong Kong and the mainland”.

What is Hong Kong pushing for in changing the law?

The bureau has proposed taking a case-by-case approach for extraditions involving any place with which Hong Kong does not yet have an agreement.

The process will involve following all the requirements in the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, which covers Hong Kong’s dealings with the 20 countries with which there are extradition agreements.

To trigger the process, the chief executive will issue a certificate to request a provisional arrest, and that will be used to apply for an arrest warrant in court. The accused person may contest the extradition in court.

The government cited the case of the woman found dead in Taiwan last year to justify the need to change the law. Although her boyfriend was in custody in Hong Kong, there was no extradition arrangement to send him to Taiwan, where the authorities suspect him of murder.

Hong Kong hopes to amend the law before the Legislative Council’s summer recess in July.

Are there any concerns over the proposed change?

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun and Reading both warned that introducing the one-off extradition mechanism could affect how countries with extradition agreements view Hong Kong.

“Taking a case-by-case approach could mean it could apply to all sorts of cases,” To said, citing the 2015 saga of five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared.

In contrast, he said, extradition agreements always relied on trusting the requesting country’s legal system.

Pro-establishment lawmakers Starry Lee Wai-king and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee dismissed concerns over handing over Hongkongers to mainland authorities, saying there were enough safeguards.

Law professor Simon Young of the University of Hong Kong, however, said the proposed change could be a breakthrough, so long as a fugitive received no less legal protection before being handed over.

The change could strengthen strategic cooperation with Taiwan and Macau in combating commercial and financial crime as well, he said.

Young pointed out that at present, if a criminal was suspected of moving assets to any of these jurisdictions, there was very little Hong Kong could do to recover them.

Can the rule change be retrospective?

Technically, the new law could apply to cases that happened earlier, although much depends on the actual wording of the bill.

“Usually the law is not retrospective, but sometimes, very rarely, drafters do make the law retrospective,” Reading said. But such a move could attract opposition, he added, if the law was viewed as violating the basic principle of natural justice.

Young said the principle of not making the new law retrospective would not apply if an action such as murder was considered an offence in both jurisdictions. He noted that other existing extradition arrangements could apply in cases that happened before the change in the law.

For example, he said, after the rules were changed, the Macau government could request the extradition of Hong Kong property tycoon Joseph Lau Luen-hung, who was jailed in absentia for more than five years in 2014 on corruption charges.

But such request did not mean Lau would be jailed if Hong Kong did decide to hand him over to Macau.

“Under the existing Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, you cannot send someone to serve a sentence if he was convicted without being present at the trial,” Young said.

“You would only send a person back to face trial.”

Additional reporting by Ng Kang-chung

JAPAN – World’s longest-serving death row inmate Iwao Hakamada

National / Crime & Legal

Story of Iwao Hakamada, boxer who spent 48 years on death row, to become manga series

by Magdalena Osumi and Masumi Koizumi

Staff Writers

The story of Iwao Hakamada, a former professional boxer and death-row inmate, 82, who continues to battle to clear his name over a 1966 quadruple murder, will be adapted into a manga series, supporters of the convict announced Wednesday.

Hakamada was sentenced to hang in 1968 by the Shizuoka District Court, but was freed in March 2014 after nearly 48 years in prison on death row. Much of that time was spent awaiting his retrial, which has yet to be held.

But a group of Hakamada’s supporters who believe the former boxer is innocent want to retell the events in his case in the form of a manga, to convey his side of the story to younger generations.

To better portray the atmosphere and circumstances surrounding Hakamada’s arrest and his trial, the supporters are working with a manga artist from Shizuoka Prefecture.

Shigemi Mori, 30, who shares Hakamada’s experience as a professional boxer, will create the series. In his younger years Mori lived in Shimizu, an area that is now part of the city of Shizuoka and is also where the 1966 murder occurred.

“I want to tell people how sloppily the investigation was conducted and what Hakamada’s life has been like, in as understandable a way as possible,” Mori said Wednesday at a news conference in Tokyo.

He said he learned about Hakamada’s case as a junior high school student and then-aspiring boxing apprentice, and started questioning the trial that put Hakamada behind bars.

Mori said he believes Hakamada is innocent. Nonetheless, he also said that he is keen to not “coerce readers to accept the supporters’ opinions, and to convey what really happened around Hakamada.”

The manga will be released in six episodes under the title “Split Decision,” with the first episode scheduled for publication on Feb. 15. Eight-page episodes will be published at on the same day of every month.

Those behind the project also plan to translate the series into English and make it available via YouTube to reach a global audience. “I like the title,” Hakamada’s elder sister Hideko said at the news conference. Conceived by Mori, the title is a winning criterion used in boxing matches in which two of three judges pick a different winner than the third judge.

The title also reflects supporters’ criticism of the “unfair” decision in which Hakamada was sentenced to death by a 2:1 majority. The courts’ decisions were split over DNA tests on bloodstained clothing found near the murder victims.

“I promised to do everything I can (to prove Iwao’s innocence) and I did,” Hideko said. She lamented, however, that her efforts to convey her plea have gone unheard.

“It won’t help anything if I tell his story, so I want to convey it through manga,” Hideko said.

Hakamada was a live-in employee at a soybean processing firm in Shizuoka when he was arrested in August 1966 for robbery and the murder of the firm’s senior managing director, his wife and two children. The police found their bodies with fatal stab wounds at their fire-damaged home.

Hakamada initially confessed to the charges, but changed his plea at trial.

The Shizuoka District Court found Hakamada guilty and sentenced him to death in 1968. The sentence was finalized by the Supreme Court in 1980.

Hakamada and his family have long sought retrials, to no avail. But a new development came in 2014 when the district court accepted DNA test results undermining the prosecution’s claim that Hakamada’s blood had been detected on clothing found at the crime scene. The court noted that the evidence could have been fabricated by police.

Then, last June, the Tokyo High Court overturned the lower court’s ruling granting the retrial, questioning the credibility of the DNA analysis method. Hakamada’s lawyers are planning to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court.

Hakamada’s case has gained international attention as the former boxer remains the world’s longest-serving death row inmate.

Japan’s capital punishment system has also been criticized internationally as inhumane.

Hideaki Nakagawa, director of human rights advocacy group Amnesty International Japan, who was present at the news conference, believes the manga will and should spark debate regarding capital punishment among the public.

As of January, 110 inmates were awaiting execution and 86 of them are seeking retrials, according to the Justice Ministry.

“The Justice Ministry says the death penalty system reflects public opinion and enjoys support from the public, but it’s misleading,” he said. “Some people already protest against it … and (the manga) could be thought-provoking for others, too, and could impact public perception.” – Japan Times, 23/1/2019

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