Death threats are common for individuals with a high public profile and for members of well known institutions. They are intended to intimidate an individual or institution to demand ransom payments or change behaviour. In some cases they are intended to disrupt normal operations such as air flights. A number of death threats are received at examination time in American secondary schools. A third reason for death threats is publicity.
The use of death threats by government institutions and government sponsored groups as a form of torture designed to break down the will of the prisoner by demonstrating the utter helplessness of the person being tortured and the ultimate power of the torturers. Death threats are frequently accompanied by mock executions of the prisoner, threats of mutilation such as castration and amputation and threats of sexual abuse. Death threats are also indirect, such as, being forced to watch executions and being held with other prisoners to be executed.
The use of death threats as a means of torture has been reported in the following countries: