1 Apr 2015

Death sentence: alarming global rise in capital punishment

A mentally-ill British grandfather is among more than 19,000 people on death row in Pakistan, according to human rights group Amnesty International.

Mohammad Asghar (pictured above), from Edinburgh, was sentenced to death in Pakistan in 2014 after being convicted of blasphemy.

There have been intense fears for Mr Asghar’s safety and repeated calls for him to be freed since he was shot and wounded by a guard at the Rawalpindi prison where he was being held in September last year, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

In 2010, doctors in Edinburgh diagnosed Mohammad with paranoid schizophrenia, after he had suffered a stroke. He spent a month in a psychiatric hospital after being sectioned. Later that year he travelled to Pakistan, where he was imprisoned. He attempted suicide while in detention that year.

19,094 death sentences

A report – published by the group – found that the grandfather, who is in his 70s, was one of at least 19,094 people who were under a death sentence by the end of 2014.

The country lifted a six-year long moratorium on the execution of civilians in the wake of the horrific Peshawar school attack. Seven people were executed in less than two weeks at the end of the year. The government also pledged to execute hundreds of people on death row who had been convicted on terrorism-related charges.

The report also found that there had been a 28 per cent jump in death sentences worldwide in 2014: 2,466 people in 55 countries were condemned to death.

The report found that an alarming number of countries – including Pakistan, Egypt and Nigeria – were using the death penalty to tackle real or perceived threats to state security linked to terrorism or internal instability.


At least 15 executions were carried out in Egypt in 2014. At least 509 death sentences were imposed; this figure includes death sentences imposed after grossly unfair trials. The Minya criminal court imposed mass death sentences on 37 people in April and 183 people in June. The death sentences followed referrals made by the court to the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s highest religious official.

Egyptian criminal courts must refer a case to the Grand Mufti for review, before handing down a death sentence; however, the opinion of the Grand Mufti is only advisory and not binding on the courts. In December, the Giza criminal court recommended death sentences against 188 people for involvement in the killing of 11 police officers in Giza in August 2013.

The court referred the 188 people to the Grand Mufti, but final verdicts had not been handed down at the end of 2014. Two commutations were granted in September when a court sentenced two men to life imprisonment after re-trying them on charges of inciting violence and blocking access to a public highway in 2013.

A court in July had sentenced them to death in their absence on the same charges. Under Egyptian law, defendants tried in their absence have the right to a re-trial in person. During the year Egypt’s highest court overturned at least two death sentences passed by the lower courts, ordering that the defendants be re-tried.


No executions were carried out in Nigeria in 2014. However, according to information received from the Nigerian Prisons Service: 589 people were sentenced to death; 49 death sentences were commuted; 69 pardons were granted; 32 death row prisoners were exonerated; and five foreign nationals were on death row in 2014.

The number of death sentences reported by the Nigerian Prisons Service does not include those imposed on 70 soldiers by military courts during the year. Therefore, inclusive of the soldiers, a total of 659 people were sentenced to death in 2014.