Helge Limburg can still clearly remember January 7th. For the Greens member of the Bundestag, this day was a “day of sadness and anger”. It was the day that Iran’s Mohammad Mehdi Karimi was executed. The karate champion was just 22 years old when he was “murdered,” as Limburg put it to DW, “because there was no due process.”
Helge Limburg did not know Mohammed Mehdi Karimi personally. But the Greens politician had sponsored the young Iranian. As a political act, out of solidarity with the democracy movement in Iran – and above all in the hope that his use could avert Karimi’s execution. Despite the distance and although he hasn’t even had the opportunity to speak to Karimi on the phone, Limburg reports that a personal relationship has developed. “I had occasional contact with those around him and I felt very close to him. My family also shared the excitement and suffered,” says Limburg.
Excessive death penalty: Iran and Saudi Arabia
Mohammed Mehdi Karimi is one of at least 209 people in Iran after Information from UN human rights commissioner Volker Türk were led to the gallows earlier this year.
Iran is among the most excessive users of the death penalty in the world. This is reflected in the latest report by the human rights organization Amnesty International on death sentences and executions in 2022. Last year, at least 576 people were killed by the state in Iran – almost twice as many as in 2021. “In Iran, the regime fears for its power,” analyzes Renata Alt. The FDP politician is chairwoman of the Bundestag Committee for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid. “That’s why it’s important that we draw attention to the many prisoners with political sponsorships. Otherwise more people would probably be executed,” Alt added in a written statement to DW.
But on the other side of the Persian Gulf, too, the number of fatalities skyrocketed: In Saudi Arabia, 196 people died in 2021 by the executioner’s sword. “In a single day, Saudi Arabia executed a whopping 81 people,” said Amnesty Secretary-General Agnès Callamard at the presentation of the report. Iran and Saudi Arabia together are responsible for more than 80 percent of the recorded executions worldwide.
Beheaded, hanged, shot, poisoned
In total, at least 883 people were beheaded, hanged, shot, poisoned in 2022 – in 20 countries. As much as it hasn’t been in five years. The number of executions has thus increased significantly compared to 2021: an increase in horror by more than 300 cases or over 50 percent. And the executions in China, which probably number in the thousands, are not even part of the death statistics: China treats the number of executions as a state secret. The same applies to Vietnam. Nor are there any figures from North Korea, where the death penalty is believed to be excessive.
The countries that kill on behalf of the state also include states that Germany likes to call partners, such as Japan, the USA and Singapore. When Boris Mijatovic, spokesman for the Bundestag Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, criticizes the death penalty to representatives of these countries, he often encounters one of two reactions: “Either the people we are talking to are embarrassed and guilty, or they come across as very self-confident in the sense of ‘ What do you westerners want to tell me?'” the Green member of the Bundestag told DW. “Especially in the Gulf region or in Asia or in North America, where this is a very old topic, you have to be very imaginative in order to make progress,” Mijatovic continues and sees German politicians as having a duty: “We are called upon to to continue this debate! Especially in countries where the death penalty is not only imposed for the most serious crimes, but also for completely different crimes. Like in Iran: ‘crimes against God’ – that’s very, very questionable!”.
Death from drug trafficking
According to the Amnesty Report, well over a third of all recorded executions were for drug trafficking. “The fact that some countries have and apply the death penalty in ordinary criminal law violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law,” emphasizes Renata Alt. such as premeditated murder. The Chair of the Human Rights Committee is also convinced that the execution of criminals does not have a deterrent effect. “It doesn’t lead to fewer murders or less drug-related crime,” said the FDP MP.
In this gloomy overall picture there is something of a glimmer of hope: Another six states have abolished the death penalty in 2022, in whole or at least in part. In Africa, in particular, the tide turned: Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic abolished the death penalty entirely; Equatorial Guinea and Zambia largely. After all, Liberia and Ghana are already preparing to abolish the death penalty. By the end of 2022, a total of 112 states had completely abandoned the death penalty! And almost two-thirds of all members of the United Nations, namely 125 countries, voted in December for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. Maybe time is running out for the death penalty.