A scathing new report released by international human rights organization Amnesty International has revealed that countries in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region carried out the highest number of death penalties in 2020, reported Associated Press yesterday, April 21. The Amnesty report also stated that four countries in the MENA region, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, carried out an overwhelming 88% of all known executions worldwide last year.
According to the report, Iran executed 246 people, Egypt 107, Iraq 45, and Saudi Arabia 27, on a wide range of “vague and overly broad terror-related and other charges” after “grossly unfair trials.” Other countries such as Oman and Qatar also resumed the death penalty last year. Oman executed four people and Qatar one person – a Nepali migrant worker convicted of murder. Amnesty has said that the numbers show how the region is “truly out of sync with the rest of the world.” The number of death penalties globally went down to 483 in 2020 from 657 in 2019. While the MENA region did report a 25% overall decline, it remains the most prolific in using capital punishment.
Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s director for MENA, said in a statement that these governments “displayed a ruthless and chilling persistence in carrying out plans to put people to death” even in the middle of a global pandemic. Amnesty stated that the 25% decline in executions by MENA countries was largely attributed to the fact that Saudi Arabia presided over the presidency of the G20 at the time and as the head of that international economic grouping did not perform any executions, resulting in a 85% drop in 2020.
Amnesty particularly highlighted the cases of Egypt and Iraq. Egypt has tripled its tally of executions from 32 in 2019 to 107 in 2020. Iraq executed 21 people in a single day in November last year on terrorism-related charges. It was condemned worldwide for carrying out the mass executions. Iraq’s overall executions tally has nonetheless decreased by over 50% from 100 in 2019 to 45 in 2020. Amnesty also pointed out that Iraq has a high number of prisoners on death row at 7,900, the highest known figure of any country.
Amnesty also raised the issue of reliability and credibility of the charges and subsequent trials that result in death sentences. “The authorities claim that these trials and sentences are meant to serve justice to the victims and victims’ families of IS (Islamic State) crimes,” Amnesty said. It also expressed concern over some of the methods and policies these governments use to convict people, including confessions obtained through torture, mass trials, and denial of the right to proper legal defense.
A member of Amnesty’s Iraq research team, Rand Hammoud said, “it is vital in Amnesty’s view to ensure fair trials with no recourse to the death penalty as the only means to provide justice and accountability to those who suffered crimes by the IS.”
Amnesty’s secretary general Agnes Callamard said, “we will continue to campaign until the death penalty is abolished everywhere, once and for all.” She called upon governments worldwide to completely abolish the death penalty in 2021. 144 countries have already abolished the death penalty by law or in practice. However, Amnesty does not expect MENA countries to do the same in the near future, calling it a “crisis of human rights” which will not be resolved “until Middle East leaders start taking the justice system seriously instead of just empowering their security services.”