Kounteya Sinha & Anahita Mukherji, TNN | Apr 1, 2015, 06.35AM IST
LONDON/MUMBAI: Indian courts sentenced 64 people to death in 2014, making India one of the top 10 in a list of 55 countries where such sentences were handed out last year.
India was also one of seven countries that had executed people on 2013, but carried out no executions in 2014, Amnesty International's Death Penalty Report 2015 released on Tuesday noted.
The figures from India mirror worldwide data, which shows a 22% decrease in executions in 2014 compared with the previous year, but a 28% increase in death sentences when compared with 2013.
While at least 607 people were executed worldwide in 2014, 2,466 were sentenced to death. Three countries — Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia — were responsible for 72% of the 607 recorded executions.
The figure for executions represents the minimum number of people executed, as data on the death penalty is a state secret in Belarus, China and Vietnam, while little or no information was available from countries like Syria and North Korea.
Though China does not release official figures for the death penalty, Amnesty International monitored executions in the country and found them to be more that the rest of the world put together.
Amnesty has taken a clear stand against the death sentence. "Governments using the death penalty to tackle crime are deluding themselves. There is no evidence that the threat of execution is a greater deterrent to crime than any other punishment," Amnesty International secretary general Salil Shetty said.
"Governments must stop justifying judicial killing on the notion that it has a unique deterrent effect," added Amnesty's death penalty expert Chiara Sangiorgio.
The Death Penalty Research Project of the National Law University (Delhi) found 270 people in India were currently on death row, while eight had their mercy petitions rejected in 2014.
The 64 new death sentences handed out in India last year were for murder and, for the first time since the 2013 amendment to the criminal law, for rape by repeat offenders.
"In India, as with a lot of other countries, violence against women has been used to justify the death penalty. And yet, study after study across the world shows that there is no proof that death penalty is a greater deterrent for crime than imprisonment," said Shailesh Rai, senior policy advisor at Amnesty International India.
He said handing out death sentences is mere tokenism, and evades the real problem which can only be solved through judicial and police reforms.
"The conviction rate for rape in India is 27% and this is only for cases that make it to the trial stage. Only one in 100 cases of sexual violence are reported. When the certainty of punishment is so low, increasing the severity of punishment at the end of a long and tedious process makes for a false argument in support of the death sentence."
The execution of Afzal Guru, points out Rai, is an instance where the death penalty was used as a political tool, rather than a tool for criminal justice. India hanged him in secret in February 2013.
In a landmark judgment in January 2014, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentences of 15 people — 13 on the grounds of an inordinate delay in hearing their mercy petitions, and two on the grounds of mental illness.
The judgment noted that an "undue, inordinate and unreasonable delay in execution of death sentence amounted to torture".
The Asia-Pacific region recorded a decline in the number of death sentences in 2014 compared with the previous year, largely because Bangladesh recorded a very high number of death sentences in 2013.
Pakistan lifted a six-year moratorium on executing civilians after the attack on a Peshawar school. Incidentally, the US is the only country in the Americas to carry out executions.
From 1995 to 2014, Amnesty recorded a 66% increase in the number of countries abolishing the death penalty, from 59 to 98.
During this period, there has also been a nearly 50% decline in the number of countries carrying out executions, which came down from 41 to 22.
Death Sentence And Executions 2014: Amnesty International report
Executions took place in 22 countries in 2014, the same number of countries as in 2013
At least 607 executions were carried out worldwide, a decrease of almost 22% compared with 2013. (China not included, doesn't share data)
At least 2,466 people are known to have been sentenced to death in 2014, a 28% increase compared with 2013 (largely because of Egypt/Nigeria)
7 countries, including India that executed convicts in 2013 did not do so in 2014
While the government of India scheduled several executions in 2014, none were carried out
Over 64 people in India sentenced to death in 2014
270 people in India were under the sentence of death and that eight people had their mercy petitions rejected in 2014
Pakistan lifted 6-year moratorium on the execution of civilians in the wake of the Peshawar school attack.
Commutations or pardons of death sentences recorded in 28 countries including India.
Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/uk/India-one-of-top-10-nations-where-death-sentences-were-handed-out-last-year/articleshow/46764947.cms [last accessed 09 April 2015]