But this still means 714 people in 18 countries received the death penalty. That figure only reflects the officially registered cases. The actual number is much higher, says Amnesty.
**Shroud of secrecy**
China is highlighted as a problem-area, because it claims to have decreased the use of the death penalty when the reverse is opposite, according to Amnesty International’s Middle East director Philip Luther: “What we’re doing is challenging China to lift the shroud of secrecy that hangs over the death penalty in China.”
But there is also cause for optimism in the 2009 figures. For the first time in many years, no official executions took place in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Mongolia or Pakistan.
No death sentences were carried out last year in Europe either – although authorities in Belarus executed two convicted criminals last week.
The General Assembly of the United Nations has taken important steps towards achieving a worldwide moratorium. Today there are nearly 100 countries in which capital punishment has been officially abolished.
Philip Luther says he can imagine a world where the death penalty is abolished: *”Obviously there are many who say it’s not possible, there are many who said that ending apartheid wasn’t possible, that ending slavery wasn’t possible. It is possible to end the death penalty – certainly Amnesty International will continue its efforts in that respect… It is increasingly a worldwide trend towards it, but it’s not happening overnight obviously.”*
Amnesty says one of the biggest problems is getting reliable figures on the use of capital punishment, both in China and in a number of other countries. The issue is shrouded in secrecy in Belarus, Iran, Mongolia, North Korea and Vietnam, a practice Amnesty condemns as indefensible.
The organization argues that if these punishments are legitimate and anchored in the legal system – as these countries claim they are – there should be no need to carry them out in secret.