Global drug executions up by more than 300 per cent

More than 130 people were executed for drug offences last year, an increase of 336 per cent on the figure for 2020, according to the latest report from Harm Reduction International (HRI).

prison fence
The death penalty for drugs remains on the statute books of 35 countries worldwide. 

However, censorship and severe lack of transparency mean it is ‘imperative to note that this number is likely to represent only a fraction of all drug-related executions carried out globally’, HRI states. 

There were also almost 240 death sentences reported across 16 countries, an 11 per cent increase on the previous year, says Death penalty for drug offences: global overview 2021. Around a tenth of known death sentences for drug offences are handed to foreign nationals, which brings ‘a host of fair trial and human rights concerns’, says HRI, with at least 3,000 people thought to currently be on death row for drug-related crimes. The death penalty for drugs remains on the statute books of 35 countries worldwide. 

‘High application’ states for imposing the death penalty for drugs offences include China, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Vietnam, although no one was executed in Singapore for the second year in a row and no one in Indonesia for the fifth in a row. Saudi Arabia also declared a moratorium on drug-related executions last year, meaning that none were carried out for the first time in a decade. However, a ‘sudden increase’ in executions was noted in Iran. 

China and Iran are among the ‘most opaque’ countries regarding the death penalty, the document states, with the information classified as a state secret in the former, as it is in Vietnam. Information regarding North Korea is ‘virtually impossible to obtain’, the report adds. ‘In this scenario, it emerges that the group of countries actively resorting to capital punishment as a central tool of drug control is shrinking, but is also more and more characterised by opacity and secrecy, if not outright censorship. Transparency and monitoring will thus be key challenges for institutional as well as civil society actors working towards death penalty abolition.’

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