Executions in China said to outpace world despite decline

In 2015, Amnesty said worldwide executions had reached 1,634 - the highest recorded since 1989.

China executes more people each year than the rest of the world combined, with its state-sanctioned system cloaked in official secrecy, said a report released in Hong Kong today by human rights monitor Amnesty International.

For the first time in a decade the U.S. was not one of the five biggest executioners, giving hope to human rights activists. "For eight years now the US has had the shameful distinction of being the only country in the Americas that carries out executions".

During 2016, 23 countries, about one in eight of all countries worldwide, are known to have carried out executions.

The high number reported in 2015 followed the lifting of a seven-year moratorium on executions in December 2014 in response to a deadly Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar.

Belarus, Botswana, Nigeria and authorities within the State of Palestine resumed executions in 2016; Chad, India, Jordan, Oman and United Arab Emirates -all countries that executed people in 2015 - did not report any executions past year.

Globally, countries are moving away from the death penalty, with 141 countries abolishing it in law or practice, according to Amnesty. The majority of states no longer condone the state taking human life. Back in 1997, that figure was 64.

Commutations or pardons of death sentences were recorded in 28 countries in 2016.

Death sentences for four people were retracted in 2016 after the courts decided they were innocent, Amnesty said.

The 2016 figure makes up 55% of the annual total, according to Amnesty.

At the beginning of 2016, the oil-rich Saudi regime executed 47 people in a single day, including the prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, leading to widespread demonstrations. However, the possible resolution of some lethal injection challenges could see the level of executions start to take off again in 2017, starting with Arkansas this April. Public executions were carried out in Iran (at least 33) and North Korea. "You have to wonder how many more people have faced the death penalty without the world knowing it", said Salil Shetty. Only China and Iran executed more people during that period. The number of executions carried out in Georgia nearly doubled compared to the previous year (from 5 to 9); while the figure nearly halved in Texas (from 13 to 7).

Amnesty said the decrease in executions was due partly to litigation on lethal injection protocols and challenges in sourcing chemicals in several states.

Another 2,832 people are still on death row in the US.

The number of death sentences in the United States, at 32, was also the lowest since 1973.

China classifies most information on the death penalty as state secrets, and the death penalty can also be dealt out for violating this secrecy.

New information about executions in China, Malaysia and Viet Nam exposed the extent to which governments are keeping their use of the death penalty secret. Amnesty itself stopped publishing exact figures - which it believed to be low estimates - after it became concerned that the data was being used by the Chinese authorities to demonstrate that its efforts to reduce executions were successful.

Maldives and the Philippines took steps in the wrong direction towards the resumptions of executions after more than six decades and the reintroduction of the death penalty, respectively.

Of those put to death in Iran, the group found, at least two people were under 18 at the time of the crime for which they had been convicted.

In sub-Saharan Africa fewer executions were recorded but the number of death sentences more than doubled, largely due to a steep rise in Nigeria. At least 22 executions were carried out in five countries - compared to 43 executions in four countries in 2015. It is believed that thousands were executed in China previous year but authorities are "deliberately obscuring the shocking scale of executions".

Over the past few years the risk of people being executed for crimes they did not commit has caused increasing alarm among the public in China.

In Europe and Central Asia, Belarus resumed executions after a 17-month hiatus.

"Use of the death penalty in the US is at its lowest since the early 1990s".

Iran alone accounted for 66% of all recorded executions in the region.

Pakistan's execution rate dropped from 326 recorded deaths in 2015 to at least 87 the following year.

  • Zachary Reyes