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Death penalty remains rife in Asia

Many countries in Asia are among the most frequent executioners

Death penalty remains rife in Asia
Filipinos light candles and pray the rosary in Manila the night before the execution of three Filipino drug smugglers in China reporters, Bangkok and Seoul

March 30, 2011

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Capital punishment is in decline worldwide but a number of Asian countries are executing more people, according to the latest report compiled by Amnesty International. Many criminals throughout the region are under sentence of death. In a week that saw China execute three Filipinos, convicted of smuggling drugs, by lethal injection, Amnesty published Death sentences and executions in 2010, which said the number of countries that imposed death sentences in the region in 2010 increased compared with 2009, when 16 countries were known to have sentenced people to death. In 2010, Amnesty was not able to confirm comprehensive figures on the use of the death penalty for China, Malaysia, North Korea, Singapore and Vietnam although executions were known to have been carried out in all these countries. The report read: “Available information confirmed at least 82 executions were carried out in five other countries in the region: Bangladesh (at least nine), Japan (two), North Korea (at least 60), Malaysia (at least one), and Taiwan (four). These are minimum estimates as few official figures on the use of the death penalty are released by governments. The number of people executed in China is believed to be in the thousands.” The Catholic Church remains fundamentally opposed to the death penalty. Over the past 50 years, Popes John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II have all repeatedly made personal appeals to heads of states not to execute particular individuals, mostly on humanitarian grounds. However, until very recently this was not promulgated as an official position of the Church. The 1994 “Catechism of the Catholic Church” recognizes the “right and the duty of the state to inflict a punishment proportional to the gravity of the crime without excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty.” But the late Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical “The Gospel of Life” (Evangelium Vitae) clarified that given steady improvements in the penal system, “such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” Many convicted criminals in the region are under sentence of death, including at least 32 in Bangladesh, 105 in India, seven in Indonesia, 14 in Japan, four in Laos, 114 in Malaysia, two in Myanmar, 365 in Pakistan, eight in Singapore, four in South Korea, nine in Taiwan , seven in Thailand and 34 in Vietnam, according to Amnesty's figures. No numbers were available for China, North Korea or Sri Lanka. Several countries have been classified as 'abolitionist in practice', ie not executing criminals although retaining the death sentence. Among them is South Korea, which has not executed anyone for 14 years, contrasting with its northern counterpart. Andrew Kim Duck-jin, secretary general of the Catholic Human Rights Committee, said: “There is still no legal bar to the death penalty, and the Constitutional Court of Korea ruled that the capital punishment is constitutional on February 25, 2010. Now it is time to discuss devising alternative legislation in Korea.” For its Lenten campaign, Korean bishops' Subcommittee for the Abolition of Capital Punishment distributed a video and a homily material asking to abolish the capital punishment to some 1,600 parishes in the country on March 7. Commenting on the case of the Filipinos put to death in China, Monsignor Achilles Dakay of the Archdiocese of Cebu said the executions should serve as a "wake-up call" for the Philippine government and prospective overseas Filipino workers. Monsignor Dakay said the Philippines should respect China's decision to execute the three because Manila has no control over China's law. He said the incident should prompt the government to intensify its campaign against drug trafficking. Amnesty said “China continued to use the death penalty extensively (last year) against thousands of people for a wide range of crimes that include non-violent offences and after proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards. No official statistics on the application of the death penalty were made available to the public.” At least 114 new death sentences were imposed in Malaysia in 2010. More than half of these were imposed for drug-related offences, while nearly all the rest were handed down for murder. In both offences the death sentence is mandatory. One success story reported by Amnesty was in Mongolia, where president Tsakhia Elbegdorj announced the establishment of a moratorium on executions with a view to its abolition. A bill aimed at ending the death penalty was introduced but at the end of 2010 it was still awaiting a final vote by the Parliament. KO13804.1647
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