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The big picture: Earth's fiercest capital punishment debates

Stop execution sign on the steps of the Supreme Court
Police officers gather to remove activists during an anti death penalty protest in front of the US Supreme Court. Photo: Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

A top British official has given the U.S. permission to pursue the death penalty against "The Beatles," two British ISIS fighters responsible for the 2014 execution of American journalist James Foley, The Telegraph reports.

Why it matters: The decision by the United Kingdom's home secretary, Sajid Javid, has drawn the ire of human rights groups and politicians for breaking the U.K.'s longstanding policy of opposing extradition of criminals that could face the death penalty. It's one of several capital punishment debates that have sprung up recently in countries all over the world.

What's happening:

  • In the United States, Nevada's plan to execute convicted murderer Scott Dozier using fentanyl, the drug at the heart of the opioid crisis, has been postponed after a pharmaceutical company filed a lawsuit. Anti-death penalty activists have made it difficult to obtain the necessary drugs for lethal injections, forcing the 31 states in which capital punishment is legal to seek alternatives, often in secrecy.
  • In Sri Lanka, President Maithripala Sirisena has vowed to end a 42-year moratorium on capital punishment for drug smugglers, citing public demand for executions in response to rising gang violence and narcotics abuse, reports the AP. The European Union and other countries have warned Sri Lanka that an end to the moratorium will prompt trade retaliation.
  • In Kenya, where the last execution was conducted in 1987, a former beauty queen has been sentenced to death for stabbing and killing her boyfriend, reports Independent Online. Kenya's mandatory death sentence for murder and armed robbery was declared unconstitutional last year, but courts still have the ability to use capital punishment at their discretion.
  • In Japan, which is one of three OECD members (along with the U.S. and South Korea) that still use capital punishment, the execution of seven members of a deadly cult has renewed questions about the transparency of the death penalty system, reports The Japan Times. Japan's Justice Ministry has a history of keeping its process veiled in secrecy, and even today refuses to disclose how death row inmates are chosen for execution.

The bottom line: The number of countries that have executed criminals each year for the past decade has wavered between 18 and 25. Even in 2018, with all that has been done to improve human rights advocacy worldwide, the death penalty debate rages on.

Go deeper: American support for the death penalty jumps in 2018

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