UK Government highlights death penalty states in human rights report

April 21, 2016

Image of nooses

The British Foreign Office has criticised countries including Bahrain, China, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia over their use of the death penalty, including them on its list of ‘Human Rights Priority Countries’ as part of its annual report published today.

Bahrain and Egypt are both new additions to the list, which was previously titled ‘human rights countries of concern’ but has since been re-named.

The report raises concerns over the execution of juveniles – people sentenced to death for alleged offences committed when they were children – criticising Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in particular for this practice.  It specifically references the cases of Dawood al-Marhoon, Ali al-Nimr and Abdullah al-Zaher, all of whom were sentenced to death as children for alleged offenses relating to protests.

The report also highlights the significant rise in the number of executions in Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, noting that in Iran, “the majority of those executed were convicted of drug-related offences.”  Human rights organization Reprieve has expressed concerns over the complicity of western states in such executions through the support they provide to Iranian counter-narcotics operations, but the report makes no reference to this issue.

Commenting, Maya Foa, Director of the death penalty team at Reprieve said: “It is welcome that the Government has denounced the dire human rights situation in countries such as Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. These three countries have presided over an unprecedented wave of executions this year – including of non-violent drug offenders, political protesters and those arrested as children.

“We welcome the FCO’s commitment to avoid British involvement in such abuses through cooperation with these countries’ law enforcement bodies. We now need to see real action and specific targeted interventions to back up these words – human rights must not be deprioritised in favour of other interests.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] / +1 917 855 8064.

2. The report can be found on the UK Government’s website.  Some key extracts relating to the death penalty are below:

Iran: the report notes “concerning trends such as the increase in use of the death penalty [and] juvenile executions…” – see p42

Saudi Arabia: the FCO says that in 2015, “we regularly raised the cases of Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher. All three were convicted of crimes committed when they were juveniles…” – p46

Pakistan: “There were serious concerns over Pakistan’s use of the death penalty, including fair trial
issues and the execution of persons who were alleged to have been minors at the time of the offence.” – p44

Neither Egypt nor Bahrain were included on the list of ‘countries of concern’ in the previous report (for 2014) which can be found here.  However, both have been included in the report for 2015, published today – in which the term ‘countries of concern’ has been replaced with ‘priority countries’.