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Global Updates from Around the World: China, Ghana, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, United States, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe on Wednesday

United States
The international community widely condemned the January 25, 2024, execution of Kenneth Smith in Alabama using nitrogen gas. The European Union reiterated its commitment against the death penalty, denouncing the execution method as “particularly cruel and unusual.” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, expressed regret, citing serious concerns about the untested suffocation method, potentially amounting to torture. A joint statement from four UN experts on January 30 condemned the execution, called for a ban on nitrogen hypoxia, and urged global death penalty abolition. They labeled Alabama’s use of Smith as a “human guinea pig” for an experimental execution method as unethical human experimentation and state-sanctioned torture.

China
On February 5, 2024, Chinese-Australian pro-democracy activist Yang Hengjun, aged 57, received a suspended death sentence for espionage. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expressed outrage, conveying frustration to China. Australia has advocated for Yang, emphasizing his interests and well-being. Additionally, two individuals were executed on January 31, 2024, for throwing two children from a 15th-floor balcony, while another was executed for killing his mother with a dumbbell.

Ghana
On January 25, 2024, six people, including three soldiers, were sentenced to death by hanging for high treason related to an alleged coup plot ahead of the 2020 elections. Ghana, having abolished the death penalty for murder, retains it for treason. This marks the first treason conviction since 1966. Defense lawyers plan to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Iran
Human rights organizations expressed concern over the timing and nature of UN Deputy High Commissioner Nada Al-Nashif’s visit to Iran from February 2 to 5. In an open letter, they highlighted Iran’s aggressive execution rate, censorship, and persecution of activists. The letter proposed modifying the visit to include strong monitoring and access to independent civil society actors. Iran executed at least 72 people in January, including four Kurdish political prisoners.

Japan
Shinji Aoba, convicted of setting fire to Kyoto Animation studio in 2019, killing 36 people, was sentenced to death on January 25, 2024. The Kyoto District Court ruled Aoba was not insane at the time of the crime. Japan, along with the United States, is one of the only G7 countries retaining capital punishment.

Saudi Arabia
During the UN Human Rights Council’s Fourth Universal Periodic Review, 33 countries made recommendations on capital punishment in Saudi Arabia. The president of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission highlighted progress, including the abolition of the death penalty for juveniles. However, concerns persist regarding ongoing executions and the treatment of child offenders.

Vietnam
Nine people were sentenced to death on January 22, 2024, in Vietnam for drug trafficking. They were convicted of trafficking significant amounts of methamphetamine and heroin. Vietnam has a death sentence for trafficking 100 grams or more of certain drugs. The Ministry of Public Security reported an increase in drug-trafficking suspects and cases in 2023.

Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe’s cabinet supported a bill introduced in November 2023 to abolish the death penalty. Information Minister Jenfan Muswere stated that the new law would impose lengthy sentences while retaining the deterrent element. The bill awaits parliamentary approval. Zimbabwe last executed in 2005, and the move aligns with global efforts against capital punishment.

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