Executions for drug offences increase after years of consistent decline

Date: 04 March 2020

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New report finds Saudi Arabia to be top executioner for drug offences for second consecutive year, while state secrecy in China and Vietnam clouds official figures

Executions for drug offences increased by 31 percent in 2019 for the first time since 2015. At least 122 people were executed on drug charges in 2019, according to new data released today by Harm Reduction International.

The report, The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview 2019, reveals that Saudi Arabia carried out at least 84 executions for drug offences – a staggering 42% increase from the previous year and the highest on record since Harm Reduction International started tracking drug-related executions in 2007. Over half of the people executed in Saudi Arabia were foreign nationals, whose trials are often marred by human rights violations, including the right to a fair trial.

Executions for drug offences were also carried out in Iran (at least 36), Singapore (2) and China (figures are a state secret). Executions were likely to have taken place in Vietnam but cannot be confirmed due to a lack of transparency around the practice.

Gen Sander, Human Rights Analyst at Harm Reduction International, and the report author, said: “Thousands of people are still on death row for drug offences, where they often suffer human rights violations. Many are caught outside their home countries, subjected to torture and not provided adequate legal representation or translation services – leaving them unable to understand or defend the charges against them. There this inhumane practice must be abolished immediately.”

The report found that at least 3,000 people are on death row globally for drug offences (although real figures may be much higher). A number of these people have been incarcerated and awaiting execution for over a decade and are often the most socio-economically vulnerable actors in the drug trade, at the lowest level of the drug market.

The report also found that drug offences were the single largest reason for known death sentences given out in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam in 2019.

The political and public discourse over the resumption of executions in Sri Lanka intensified last year, specifically for those convicted of selling and trafficking drugs. A verdict on a judicial challenge to the death sentences is expected in the Sri Lankan Supreme Court in expected next month. The court ruled to stay the executions in October 2019. If executions are allowed to resume, it will mark the end of a 43-year moratorium on executions in the country.

© 2020 Harm Reduction International.

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