Supporters of convicted terrorist Mohiuddin AKM Ahmed have asserted that sending Mohiuddin back to Bangladesh to face his crimes would be "fundamentally unfair" because he would be taken "from the plane to the gallows." The implication is that Bangladesh is a country where the death penalty is dispensed without due process, and swiftly. Bangladesh of course is a convenient target because it is a majority Muslim country. If one were to believe Mohiuddin’s supporters, including Dana Rohrabacher, one would expect Bangladesh to be a bloodthirsty country where many people are executed on a routine basis.
Let us put some facts on the table and see if the spin coming from Mohiuddin’s backers holds up to closer inspection.
Below is a chart (click chart for enlarged image) showing the number of death penalty convictions and the number of executions in Bangladesh from 1997 to 2005 (the latest year for which Amnesty International has data). You will notice that Bangladesh carried out no executions in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2002. In the years that executions were carried out, they ranged from a low of 2 in 1997 and 2003 to a high of 7 in 2004. You will also note a sharp rise in convictions, though not executions, since 2001 when the center-right party came to power. The rise in convictions did not give rise to a rise in executions partly due to the automatic and long appeals process in death penalty cases in Bangladesh. It should be clear from the chart below that Bangladesh does not carry out a large number of executions.
Now, let us compare the number of executions in Bangladesh with those in the United States, and specifically, in the state of Texas. The chart (click to enlarge) below shows the number of executions in Bangladesh, the United States, and Texas between 1997 and 2005. You will notice that the executions in the United States and Texas dwarf the executions carried out in Bangladesh for each year represented in the chart. The executions in the United States varied from a low of 59 in 2004 to a high of 98 in 1999. Similarly, executions in Texas varied from a low of 17 in 2001 to a high of 40 in 2000. As I noted earlier, the most executions carried out in a single year in Bangladesh was 7 in 2004, while in 4 of the 9 years we are looking at Bangladesh carried out no executions.
Looking at the data above, one might conclude that perhaps the reason Bangladesh has such low numbers of executions is that it does not have a large population. So, let us look at the populations and compare them with the number of executions. The chart (click to enlarge) below compares the total number of executions between 1997 and 2005 in Bangladesh, the United States and Texas with their respective populations. The chart shows that while the United States has twice the population of Bangladesh, it carried out 38 times more executions than Bangladesh. The chart also shows that while Texas has less than 13% of the population of Bangladesh, it carried out over 14 times more executions than Bangladesh.
To put the above numbers in perspective, let us look at the number of executions per million people. The chart (click to enlarge) below shows the number of executions per million people in Bangladesh, the United States and Texas between 1997 and 2005. The numbers are striking. From 1997 to 2005, Bangladesh executed 0.11 people for every million people in the population, the United States executed 2.17 people for every million people in the population, and Texas executed 12.4 people for every million people in the population. In other words, the United States executed at the rate of nearly 20 times more people than Bangladesh, and Texas executed at the rate of nearly 113 times more people than Bangladesh.
I think the above data clearly show that the death penalty is carried out far more often in the United States than in Bangladesh. Further, the death penalty is carried out at an alarming rate in the state of Texas. Bangladesh by no means is a leading state killer – the United States, and particularly the state of Texas, are far more adept and prolific at killing their own citizens.
Clearly the notion floated by his supporters that Mohiuddin will be taken "from the plane to the gallows" is not supported by the facts. In fact, none of the other persons sentenced to death with Mohiuddin for the killings in 1975 have been executed – even though their appeals were exhausted in 2001. I do not see a rush to the gallows. Further, Bangladesh tried Mohiuddin and his cohorts through the normal judicial process of the country. Bangladesh did not create a special tribunal to try these killers – even though, because the murders involved the killing of the head of state, Bangladesh could have chosen to set up a special tribunal. Instead, Mohiuddin and his cohorts were given full due process and automatic right to appeal all the way to the High Court (where 3 of the 15 originally convicted were acquitted). Furthermore, Mohiuddin’s trial in Bangladesh was judged to be fair by the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
When Mohiuddin was sentenced to death for his crimes in 1998, Amnesty International released a carefully worded statement that reiterated Amnesty’s stance against the death penalty and called on Bangladesh to commute the death sentences. The statement also stated Amnesty’s belief that "continued determination to bring to justice perpetrators of human rights violations will not only enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in the country but also eliminate the need to deal with these at a later date." The full statement is below:
Amnesty International is disturbed by reports that 15 people were recently sentenced to death in Bangladesh on charges of involvement in the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family in August 1975.
Although the process of judicial appeal to the High Court has just begun and those sentenced have the right to appeal to the Supreme Court and to petition the Head of State for clemency thereafter, Amnesty International is calling on the government of Bangladesh to commute these and other death sentences at the earliest opportunity.
The organization welcomes investigations into past human rights abuses but insists that, once the truth is revealed, decisive measures must be taken to ensure that punishment for such abuses does not itself constitute a violation of human rights.
Amnesty International is opposed to the death penalty at all times and in all cases. It appeals to the government of Bangladesh to abolish this punishment once and for all, and calls on the opposition parties to support any move towards this goal. This will be in keeping with a worldwide trend towards the abolition — in law and practice — of the death penalty.
The organization also urges the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that the drive to investigate past human rights violations does not target only selected groups, but that all perpetrators of human rights violations are brought to justice without exception, no matter who they are or where and when the violations occurred.
At the same time, it calls on the authorities to ensure that trials conform at all times to internationally established fair trial standards, and that the treatment of the accused in detention and the sentences imposed on them by courts do not themselves constitute violations of human rights.
Amnesty International believes that a continued determination to bring to justice perpetrators of human rights violations will not only enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in the country but also eliminate the need to deal with these at a later date.
Amnesty did not say that the trial was unfair or that Mohiuddin did not get due process. Instead, Amnesty reiterated its long standing position against the death penalty in all cases.
Contrary to the claims of Mohiuddin’s supporters, all observers including the courts in the United States have concluded that Mohiuddin received due process. And contrary to Mohiuddin’s supporters’ claims, Bangladesh is not exactly a "bloodthirsty" nation that carries out swift executions.
It is more than likely that Mohiuddin would have already been executed if he had committed his crimes in the United States, and worse still, if he had committed his crimes within the boundaries of the state of Texas. As it is, he has a better chance at surviving his sentence in Bangladesh than he would have stood here in the United States.
Tabular data for the charts included in this post are downloadable as an Excel Workbook.