Although most nations have abolished capital punishment, over 60% of the world's population lives in countries where the death penalty is retained; such as China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan and Sri Lanka. According to Amnesty International, 993 people were executed in 23 countries in 2017; down by 4% from 2016 with 1,032 executions and 39% from 2015 with 1,634 executions. The global figure excludes China, where information on executions is classified. Elsewhere, most executions took place in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.
The Catholic Church is leading a campaign to abolish the death penalty. More effective systems of detention could ensure the protection of citizens without depriving “the guilty of the possibility of redemption,” according to Pope Francis.
In China, capital punishment is mostly enforced for murder and drug trafficking, and executions are carried out by lethal injection or gun shot. China carries out the most executions, applying the death penalty to hundreds of people every year. That’s why this campaign is unlikely to ease fraught negotiations on a rapprochement between the Vatican and Beijing. The Beijing government broke off diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1951 after a complicated incident that included a businessman named Antonio Riva who was executed and the Holy See's diplomatic mission who was banished from the country for "espionage" and “conspiracy” to assassinate Mao Zedong.
Pope Francis has long been a vocal opponent of the death penalty, and he hinted at a possible change during a 2017 address to church leaders where he also called the practice “inadmissible.” He ordered a change to the catechism of the Catholic Church, altering existing language to read “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” The Pontiff vows that the church will work “with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
Existing language about the death penalty reads that the death penalty — carried out by a legitimate authority after a fair trial — is an “appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.”
Pope Francis’s change in teaching was welcomed by Reprieve, a human rights charity which campaigns against the death penalty worldwide. “The Catholic church has long been a powerful voice against the unnecessary cruelty of capital punishment,” said Maya Foa, its director, said. “At a time when the British government has acted to undermine its own longstanding opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances, this is a reminder of the importance of upholding human dignity.
“In taking a stand against the death penalty, His Holiness is rejecting a practice that has been proven to have no deterrent effect and has led to tragic and irreversible miscarriages of justice around the world.”
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