Public Stoning

Iranian courts still order public stonings, and those sentenced are often severely whipped before they are stoned.

Women are buried up to their necks before a stoning. If convicted of adultery, Iranian law requires the stones not be too big or too small so that the probable death is not merciful or prolonged. If a woman miraculously survives a stoning, she must then serve a jail sentence.

For men, the stoning procedure is a bit different. Men are buried up to their waists before a stoning. If they confess and manage to escape, they are free.

Appointment at the Gallows: Hanging

In most of the world, execution by hanging is used. Iran recently cut back on the number of its judicial hangings, but in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Botswana, Iraq, Japan, Pakistan, Singapore, St. Kitts & Nevis and Sudan hanging is extremely common. In 2008, approximately 339 men and four women were hanged in these countries.

Short Drop Hanging

The gallows and method of death they produce vary from country to country. Often the “American style” or “short drop” method of hanging is used, which means the drop is only inches and does not break the condemned’s neck. He or she struggles in the noose, causing it to tighten and after some time of suffering, dies from asphyxia.

Suspension Hanging

In some countries, the method of choice is suspension hanging, which utilizes a crane or other heavy equipment to lift the prisoner off the ground by the noose. The manner of death is the same as the short drop, which makes it slow and agonizing. After short drop or suspension hangings, the deceased’s face is generally engorged and blue with blood marks evident on the face and eyes, and the tongue may protrude.

Standard Drop Hanging

Standard drop hanging was adopted as the normal method of hanging in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th century. Prisoners drop four to six feet, which often rips the skin, breaks the neck and in some cases causes decapitation. This method of hanging is still carried out today in some of the countries listed above.

Long Drop Hanging

Long drop or “measured drop” hanging was adopted by British Colonies and practiced in Britain as a “more humane” form of punishment. The distance of the drop is calculated by the prisoner’s height, weight and body type and designed to break the neck. If the calculations are incorrect and the drop is too long or too short, the prisoner’s head may be ripped off or they may slowly die from strangulation. This is now a very common form of hanging.

The Electric Chair

Since all methods of hanging are either cruel and inhumane or potentially so, the electric chair was introduced in the U.S. in 1888. The electric chair was designed as a “more humane” method of execution, although it does not cause instant death. Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse were battling to dominate electrical utilities at the time, and Westinghouse’s alternating current powered the first electric chair. Edison was pleased that the electric chair required Westinghouse’s current, as he had always made the argument that the alternating current was dangerous.

The electric chair has been used in 27 U.S. states and the Philippines. The first man to die in the electric chair was William Kemmler, who was convicted of murdering his lover. Kemmler was executed on August 6, 1890. He sat in the chair on his own and was strapped to the chair with leather straps around his torso, arms and legs. Head and spinal electrodes with layers of sponge soaked in brine were attached to Kemmler and a black cloth was put over his face.

When the switch was thrown, Kemmler went rigid for 17 seconds, then his body relaxed. He was declared dead, but 30 seconds later his chest had a series of spasms. A second charge of electricity was sent through his body for 70 seconds, until there was a smell of burning flesh and vapor and smoke were seen rising from his body. Kemmler was then officially declared dead.

The electric chair is still a legal method of execution in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Death row inmates are given the choice of dying by lethal injection or the electric chair. Since 1993, at least five electric chair executions have gone seriously wrong with prisoners being slowly tortured to death with blue and orange flames shooting out of the helmet while he or she is still alive and in intense agony.

Judicial Caning

In some countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, judicial caning is a common punishment for male offenders. Thousands of men are sentenced to caning each year in these countries and for some crimes it is a mandatory punishment. Judicial caning is done privately inside prisons. Prisoners are stripped naked and shackled to an A-frame. They are then beaten full-force with a four-foot rattan cane that has been soaked in water. The cane splits the skin and rips at the bare flesh. There is usually severe physical damage and permanent scarring. In some cases an attendant holds the prisoner’s head and reminds him to breathe. After the caning, the prisoners are given medical treatment to clean the wounds.

A graphic six-minute video of a Malaysian judicial caning, which would be extremely upsetting for most people to watch is online. It is not advisable to watch this video, which was filmed as part of an educational documentary to deter crime.

Death by Shooting

Most countries have stopped the practice of death by firing squad or by single bullet to the head and now use lethal injection. However, shooting executions are still used in the state of Utah, Afghanistan, Belarus, Ethiopia, Indonesia, North Korea, Nigeria, Yemen, Vietnam and some parts of China.

China has the death penalty for 68 crimes. During a war on crime effort in China in the spring of 2001 there were 1,781 executions, according to Amnesty International records. That figure is higher than all of the other executions in the world put together for the same period. Executions are carried out immediately after a public sentencing. China keeps its death penalty statistics a state secret. The prisoner’s arms are shackled behind them and they are forced to kneel before they are shot in the back of the head at close range or shot in the heart from behind with an automatic rifle. The family of the executed person is required to pay for the bullets used.


In Saudi Arabia, public beheading is the punishment for murder, rape, drug trafficking, sodomy, armed robbery, apostasy and other offenses. Men and women receive sentences of death by beheading and are usually given sedatives beforehand. The condemned are taken by the police to a public place and their eyes are covered. A sheet of plastic is spread out on the ground and the prisoner is forced to kneel facing Mecca. The prisoner’s name and crime is read out loud and the executioner is given a traditional Arab scimitar. The executioner generally takes a few practice swings in the air before poking the prisoner in the back of the neck with the tip of the sword. This causes the prisoner to lift their head so that it can be removed with a single stroke. The head often flies two to three feet away from the body and is picked up and given to a doctor who sews it back on. The deceased’s body is wrapped in the plastic sheet and taken away for burial in an unmarked grave at the prison.

Whipping, Flogging and Lashing

Whipping, flogging and lashing are judicial punishments in which the prisoner is beaten with a whip, strap or flogger. While many countries have now outlawed judicial beatings, the practice is still widespread in Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the Bahamas, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Libya, Yemen, Malaysia, Brunei, parts of Nigeria and Indonesia as well as other countries.

In American prisons, flogging and beatings are still used, unofficially, to maintain order.


Mutilation, including eye gouging, chemical blinding, amputation of fingers, hands or other body parts, is also used in some countries, especially in those whose legal system is based on Islamic law.


In Saudi Arabia, those convicted of crimes involving theft are often sentenced to amputation, and their right hands are removed. For those found guilty of highway robbery, cross amputation, or removal of the right hand and left foot is ordered. In Iran, prisoners may also be sentenced to amputation of both hands and feet for serious crimes. Judicial amputation is still practiced in many other countries too including Yemen, Sudan, and Islamic regions of Nigeria. Under the Taliban, judicial amputations were common in Afghanistan.

An Eye for an Eye – Literally

In Saudi Arabia, Indian citizen Puthan Veettil `Abd ul-Latif Noushad was sentenced to a brutal punishment in 2005. The Greater Shari`a Court of Dammam ordered his right eye gouged out as retribution for taking part in a brawl. A Saudi citizen was injured in the brawl and insisted that the punishment be carried out.

Although Saudi Arabia consented to the Convention against Torture in 1997, brutal judicial punishments in the country have not stopped. Eye gouging sentences are not uncommon.

Chemical Blinding

In Iran, a 27-year-old man who was rejected by a woman attacked and threw acid on her, causing her to be blind and disfigured. The Supreme Court has upheld his sentence, which is chemical blinding in both eyes. He will be strapped down and have drops of hydrochloric acid placed in each of his eyes.

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