Jenny Marra MSP - Time to End the Cruellest Punishment


1 April 2014


As you read this, it is likely that somewhere in the world, at least one person is being executed.

On Monday, the news that a court in Egypt had handed down a mass death sentence condemning 529 people to die was greeted with worldwide outrage, and rightly so.

According to Amnesty International, this is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences they’ve seen in recent years – not only in Egypt – but anywhere in the world.

Just two weeks ago, the case of Glenn Ford in the USA, a man released after nearly 30 years on death row, made headlines around the world.

Ford, an African-American man convicted of killing a white shop owner by an all-white jury, suffered a catalogue of legal failings.

At his trial, no murder weapon was ever identified, dubious “expert” witnesses were used, and Ford’s main lawyer was out of his depth – having never even been involved in a jury trial before.

These are just two examples of the injustices taking place every day, even in societies such as the USA, which considers itself civilised and progressive.

The Glenn Ford case is a harrowing example of why the death penalty is never the answer:

He was the 144th exonerated prisoner to be released from death row in the USA since 1973; proof that the death sentence always carries the risk of executing an innocent person.

The last execution in Scotland took place more than 50 years ago.

Since then, we as a nation have progressed immeasurably in our respect and protection of human rights at home, but it is also important that we continue to call on other countries to uphold the human rights of their citizens.

Every year, Amnesty International publishes a global report on the death penalty, and the figures for 2013 make for difficult reading – 778 people were put to death last year and that figure is based only on officially reported executions.

But there is some positive news: the trend continues toward the abolition of the death penalty worldwide, despite Indonesia, Kuwait, Nigeria and Vietnam choosing to resume executions last year.

The number of executions in the USA continued to decrease and Maryland became the 18th US state to abolish the death penalty.

However, the numbers in Amnesty’s report do not include the thousands of people executed in China.

This is not an oversight.

The death penalty is considered a state secret, making it impossible to publish credible figures – a good reminder of how lucky we are to live in a country where freedom of information is the rule rather than the exception.

Saudi Arabia also attempts to distort the truth about how many people are executed.

Amnesty has evidence of at least one secret execution last year and in some cases families are not notified when their relatives have been executed.

Horrific executions are often carried out in public: five Yemeni men were beheaded and “crucified” in the city of Jizan, in front of the local university where students were taking exams.

In Saudi Arabia, beheading, firing squad and even crucifixion are common methods.

The atrocities do not end there.

In breach of international law, Saudi Arabia executed individuals for crimes they allegedly committed while under the age of 18.

In January, 17-year-old Sri Lankan domestic worker Rizana Nafeek was beheaded.

When she was 17, she allegedly killed an infant in her care.

She had no access to lawyers either before or during her trial. Last March, two men who were under 18 when arrested, were shot in a public square in Abha.

The people of Scotland have shown they will not condone such barbaric practices.

I am pleased to say thousands of Scots have joined Amnesty International’s campaign which seeks to eradicate the death penalty worldwide.

In the time it has taken you to read this article, at least one person has been executed.

Jenny wrote this article for Amnesty International

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