The EU has rebuked Iran for the sentencing of nine people to death by stoning even as a new report by a European rights group shows the number of executions worldwide is on the rise.
Protestors against Iran's policy on stoning brought their argument to Brussels recently
The European Union said this week it was deeply worried about news that Iran had sentenced nine women and one man to death by stoning for separate adultery convictions in different Iranian cities.
A statement issued by France, which currently holds the EU presidency, on Thursday, July 24, reminded Tehran it had pledged to introduce a moratorium on stoning and urged it to abide by its commitments and international standards.
"The European Union calls on the Iranian government and parliament to abolish, in law and in practice, recourse to cruel and degrading punishment and, in particular the use of stoning, as a method of execution," the statement read.
News reports say the eight women, ranging in age from 27 to 43, had convictions including prostitution, incest and adultery. The man, a 50-year-old music teacher, was convicted of illegal sex with a student.
The last officially reported stoning in the Islamic Republic was carried out on a man a year ago which sparked criticism from rights groups, the European Union and a top UN official.
Iran's judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi ordered a moratorium on stoning in 2002.
Iran , Saudi Arabia world leaders in executions
The EU's concerns over the death by stoning sentences in Iran coincided with the release of a new report by a Rome-based anti-death penalty group. It showed that though a global trend towards abolition of the death penalty continued in 2007 with the number of countries practicing capital punishment dropping to 49 from 51 in the previous year, the number of executions worldwide increased.
The group, called Hands Off Cain, presented its findings in the 2008 edition of its annual report, which covers the first six months of the year and 2007.
At least 5,851 executions were carried out in 2007 up from the 5,635 registered in 2006 and 5,494 in 2005, the report said.
These two Chinese men were executed on drug-related charges in 1996
The surge was "in large part" due to the increased number of executions in Iran, up by one-third, and Saudi Arabia where the number of people executed quadrupled, it said.
China put to death at least 5,000 people, accounting for 85.4 percent of the world total. Iran, which executed at least 355 people, and Saudi Arabia 166, filled the other top three places of what the report called the "terrible podium" of capital-punishment practicing countries.
Most executions in Asia; US to blame too
Other countries where the number of people executed numbered more than 10 included Pakistan, with at least 134, the United States where 42 people were put to death, Iraq with at least 33, Vietnam with at least 25, Yemen and Afghanistan, both with at least 15, and North Korea with at least 13.
The report noted how the "prevalent situation worldwide" including China, Vietnam, Belarus and Mongolia, was for governments to conceal the number of executions, making it difficult to provide exact figures.
"It points to the fact that the fight against the death penalty entails, beyond the stopping of executions, a battle for democracy, for the respect of the rule of law and for political rights and civil liberties," the report said.
Asia remained the region where the vast majority of executions are carried out, while the Americas "would be practically death-penalty free were it not for the United States, the only country on the continent to execute anyone in 2007," the report noted.
In Africa, the death penalty was carried out in seven countries -- Botswana (at least one), Egypt (actual number unknown), Ethiopia (one), Equatorial New Guinea (three), Libya (at least nine), Somalia (at least five) and Sudan (at least seven).
In 2007 and in the first six months of 2008 nine countries moved from retention to a form of abolition of the death penalty.
Rwanda went from retentionist to abolitionist in July of 2007 with a law that abolished the death penalty for all crimes, while Kyrgyzstan abolished the death penalty in January 2007, after years of moratorium.
Uzbekistan went from retentionist to abolitionist on January 1, 2008.These moves were partly offset by the resumption of executions in Afghanistan and Ethiopia after several years of suspension, the report said.
Belarus a blemish on Europe
"In Europe, the only blemish on an otherwise completely death penalty-free zone continues to be Belarus, where at least one person was executed in 2007 and three in the first five months of 2008," the report said.
The EU has led a campaign to abolish capital punishment worldwide
Hands Off Cain hailed the December 2007 adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of a resolution that calls upon all member states that still maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing them.
The group announced it had bestowed its "Abolitionist of the Year 2008" award on former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who during his time in office led a campaign to bring the resolution before the UN General Assembly.