While the number of executions dropped, the number of people being sentenced to death skyrocketed. Picture: Courtesy Amnesty International. Source: Supplied
IN A single year, it executed more people than the rest of the world combined.
But exactly how many death row prisoners have been killed in China remains top secret.
Amnesty International estimates at least 1000 people were executed by the Asian powerhouse in 2014 alone.
In its Death Penalty 2014 report, the human rights group said it actually believed the real number of people being put to death in China each year was in the “thousands”, conceding the true figure was impossible to determine.
And with more than 50 offences punishable by death and a startling 99 per cent conviction rate, it is perhaps the one country in the world where you don’t want to be accused of committing a crime.
At least one Australian resident, New Zealand-born Peter Gardiner, is facing the prospect of a Chinese firing squad after being accused of smuggling ice into the country with his girfriend, Sydney woman Kalynda Davis, who has since been returned to Australia.
The annual report names China among 22 nations which still carry out executions, despite the scrapping of capital punishment in more than 140 others.
And unlike other nations, China does not reveal its official figures to the world.
Amnesty International spokesman Rose Kulak said the conservative estimate of 1000 deaths was obtained via non-government agencies, families who’ve had bodies returned to them and activists on the ground.
“The Chinese Government treats executions as a state secret,” she said.
“In China you can get the death penalty for a wide scope of crimes (roughly 55 different crimes). This includes burglary, burning down a shop or accepting a bribe.
China remains the world’s top executioner according to Amnesty International. Source: AFP
“The lack of fairness in trials, which sees on average a 99 per cent conviction rate and a huge number of charges for which you can face the death penalty, is why there’s such a massive execution tally in China, and why the exact number remains a secret.”
Just last month, a Chinese court sentenced a man to death for a 1996 rape and murder, after admitting it had earlier executed the wrong man by mistake for the same crime.
Zhao Zhihong, 42, confessed to the attack in 2005, after an innocent Huugjilt, 18, had already been put to death. He was posthumously exonnerated and his family awarded compensation.
Amnesty said while the numbers of executions around the world had fallen by 22 per cent, the number of people being sentenced to their deaths had skyrocketed by 28 per cent.
It said 607 official executions were recorded across the world, excluding China’s figures, with countries using the death penalty “in a flawed attempt to tackle crime, terrorism and internal instability.”
Amnesty also said the spike in death sentences being handed out — 2466 globally —was largely due to recent mass sentencing carried out across Egypt and Nigeria.
While China remained the world’s top executioner, Iran came in second with 289 deaths officially announced. It is understood a further 450 which have not been officially acknowledged.
Saudi Arabia came in at number three with at least 90 executions, followed by Iraq, 61, and the United States in number five position with 35 executions.
The 607 recorded global executions carried out in 2014 was a decrease on the 778 recorded in 2013, a drop of more than 20 per cent.
Amnesty International has used its annual report to again call for the global abolition of the death penalty, which it regards as a harsh, inhumane and cruel punishment.
Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary-general, said governments which used the death penalty to tackle crime were deluding themselves.
“There is no evidence that shows the threat of execution is more of a deterrent to crime than any other punishment,” he said.
How executions compare around the world. Picture: Courtesy Amnesty International. Source: Supplied
“The dark trend of governments using the death penalty in a futile attempt to tackle real or imaginary threats to state security and public safety was stark last year.
“It is shameful that so many states around the world are essentially playing with people’s lives — putting people to death for ‘terrorism’ or to quell internal instability on the ill-conceived premise of deterrence.”
Mr Shetty said the numbers spoke for themselves and the death penalty was slowly becoming a thing of the past.
“The few countries that still execute need to take a serious look in the mirror and ask themselves if they want to continue to violate the right to life, or join the vast majority of countries that have abandoned this ultimate cruel and inhuman punishment,” he said.
OPERATION: STRIKE HARD
China, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq all executed people accused of terrorism offences, according to Amnesty.
Pakistan attracted global headlines when it announced 8000 prisoners on death row would soon be executed.
It lifted its moratorium on the death penalty in all capital cases after restarting executions for terrorism offences in the wake of a Taliban school massacre in December last year.
Pakistan has lifted its moratorium on the death penalty in all capital cases. Source: AFP
In China, authorities used the death penalty as a punitive tool in the “Strike Hard” campaign against unrest in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, executing at least 21 people during the year related to separate attacks, Amnesty figures reveal.
North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia continued to use the death penalty as a tool to suppress political dissent, while Jordan ended an eight-year moratorium in December, putting eleven murder convicts to death.
The government claimed it was a move to end a surge in violent crime.
In Indonesia, the government announced plans to execute mainly drug traffickers to tackle a public safety “national emergency”.
Executions have declined worldwide since 2013. Picture: Courtesy Amnesty International. Source: Supplied
Among the methods used to kill in 2014 were beheading, hanging, lethal injection and firing squad.
In Saudi Arabia and Iran, executions are carried out in public, often by beheading and hanging.
People were executed for a range of crimes including robbery, drug-related offences, economic offences, adultery, blasphemy and even sorcery.
The firing squad execution chamber at the Utah State Prison in Draper. The US ranks fifth for its execution tally. Source: AP
AUSTRALIANS ON DEATH ROW IN CHINA
Little is known about those on death row in China, however recent cases involving Australian citizens have brought it into the global spotlight.
New Zealand-born Australian resident Peter Gardiner is among the thousands understood to be facing the firing squad in China.
Gardiner was allegedly caught with 30 kilograms of methamphetamine, worth up to $80 million, with Australian woman Kalynda Davis earlier this year.
The pair were busted after meeting on Tinder and travelling to China on a whim. However, while Mr Gardiner awaits his fate, Ms Davis has returned to Australia after top secret negotiations led by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop saw her secretly flown back to Sydney.
New Zealand-born Australian resident Peter Gardiner could also face the firing squad in China. Source: Supplied
In September last year, an Australian government source also revealed there are an unknown number of citizens possibly facing the death penalty in China after being arrested for drug smuggling.
Government sources would not reveal how many people are involved but told The Courier-Mail there appeared to be a pattern of Australians being caught carrying “significant quantities”.
It is understood “several Australians have been arrested, and that Chinese laws mandate an immediate death sentence for serious drugs offences.”
A GRIM PICTURE
According to the report, the US remained the only country in the Americas to carry out executions, which dropped from 39 to 35 compared to the previous year.
Seven states carried out executions in 2014, with 90 per cent taking place in four states: Texas, Missouri, Florida and Oklahoma.
The overall number of people sentenced to death dropped from 95 in 2013 to 77 in 2014.
In the Asia-Pacific, executions were recorded in nine countries with 32 recorded deaths, excluding China and North Korea, whose figures are also unknown.
Sub-Saharan Africa recorded 46 executions which was down from 64 in 2013, a drop of 28 per cent.
Belarus remained the onlyEuropean nation to record executions, with three in 2014.
However, the Middle East raised concern among human rights groups with Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia recording 72 per cent of the world’s global executions, excluding China.
Amnesty International has called for a complete abolition of executions worldwide. Picture: Courtesy Amnesty International. Source: Supplied