Amnesty says Afzal Guru did not receive a lawyer with adequate experience at trial stage

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee rejected the mercy petitions of 18 prisoners on death row in 2013, the highest number of rejections by any President in the last 25 years, according to Amnesty International’s annual review of the death penalty worldwide, which was released in London on Thursday.

Only one execution took place in India – that of Mohammad Afzal Guru in February last year.

Amnesty has raised concerns about the fairness of Afzal Guru’s trial, noting that he did not receive legal representation of his choice or a lawyer with adequate experience at the trial stage. “Afzal Guru’s family were not informed in time of his imminent execution and his body was not returned to the family for last rites and burial, in violation of international standards,” the report states.

In India “72 new death sentences were known to have been imposed throughout the year and at least 400 people were believed to be on death row at the end of the year,” the report adds.

Sharp spike

Despite a marked global trend towards the abolition of the death sentence, the pattern was disrupted by a sharp spike in the number of executions in Iran (369) and Iraq (169) in 2013, leading to a 15 per cent increase in the global figure for executions as compared to 2012.

“Only a small number of countries carried out the vast majority of these senseless state-sponsored killings. They can’t undo the overall progress already made towards abolition,” said Amnesty’s General Secretary Salil Shetty.

Excluding China, at least 778 executions are known to have been carried out worldwide in 2013, compared to 682 in 2012, the report states.

Chinese figures

Amnesty International says that it stopped publishing Chinese execution numbers from 2009 in protest against the Chinese government’s refusal to provide the organisation with figures.

Nevertheless, it claims China accounts for the single largest number of executions, running “into thousands.”

There has been a steady decline in the number of countries using the death penalty over the last 20 years. Twenty years ago, 37 countries actively implemented the death penalty. This number fell to 25 by 2004 and to 22 last year. Only nine of the world’s countries have executed year on year for the past five years, it says.

Significantly, the USA is the only country to have carried out executions in the Americas, although the numbers fell by four between 2012 and 2013 that saw 39 executions.

There were 3108 people on death row last year, with Texas accounting for 41 per cent of all executions in the country.

“The death penalty in the USA continued to be marked by error, inconsistency, racial disparities and, in a number of cases, a lack of adherence to specific provisions of international law or safeguards,” the report states.

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