(Bloomberg) -- Amnesty International urged South Sudan to abolish the death penalty, saying at least seven people, including one who was a child at the time of their crime, were executed in 2018, the most in any year since the war-torn country gained independence.

The London-based group also raised concern over 135 people on death row who it said have been rounded up from prisons nationwide and sent to facilities in the capital, Juba, and the northwestern town of Wau that are notorious for executions. A spokesman for South Sudan’s president denied any executions were carried out this year.

“It is extremely disturbing that the world’s youngest nation has embraced this outdated, inhuman practice and is executing people, even children, at a time when the rest of the world is abandoning this abhorrent punishment,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty’s director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

Amnesty’s claims come as South Sudan tries to enact a peace deal to end a five-year civil war that may have claimed almost 400,000 lives and has seen frequent accusations of right abuses against primarily pro-government forces. At least 342 people are currently facing death sentences, more than double the figure in 2011, when the nation seceded from Sudan, according to Amnesty.

‘Blatant Violation’

The group said authorities executed four people last year, two of them children when they committed the crimes for which they were convicted -- a “blatant violation of national and international laws” that forbids such a step for a person convicted for an act that occurred before they were 18.

South Sudanese legislation allows the use of execution by hanging for crimes including murder, terrorism and treason, with the sentence needing confirmation by the Supreme Court and president.

Ateny Wek Ateny, a spokesman for President Salva Kiir, said by phone that the government has “put a moratorium on executing people condemned by the courts,” and no death sentences were carried out this year. He called the report “another way of trying to polarize South Sudan during a time when it is trying to implement peace.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Okech Francis in Juba at fokech@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Richardson at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net, Michael Gunn

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