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Almost 1,000 executions were recorded last year, including beheadings and lethal injections

Most executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan – in that order.

File photo of an electric chair at the Greensville Correctional Center in Virginia, US
File photo of an electric chair at the Greensville Correctional Center in Virginia, US
Image: Rob Crandall/Shutterstock

ALMOST 1,000 EXECUTIONS were recorded around the world last year, according to figures released by Amnesty International today.

The organisation recorded at least 993 executions in 23 countries in 2017, down by 4% from 2016 (1,032 executions) and reduced by 39% from 2015 – when Amnesty reported 1,634 executions, the highest number since 1989.

Most executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan – in that order.

China remained the world’s top executioner. However, Amnesty said the true extent of the use of the death penalty there is unknown as this information is classified as a state secret. The global figure of at least 993 excludes the thousands of executions believed to have been carried out in China.

Excluding China, 84% of all reported executions took place in just four countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan. During 2017, 23 countries are known to have carried out executions – the same as in 2016.

Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) resumed executions in 2017. Amnesty did not record executions in five countries − Botswana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Sudan and Taiwan − that carried out executions in 2016.

Executions decreased in Belarus (by 50%, from at least four to at least two); Egypt (by 20%); Iran (by 11%); Pakistan (31%) and Saudi Arabia (5%). Executions doubled or almost doubled in Palestine, from three in 2016 to six in 2017; from four to eight in Singapore; and from 14 to 24 in Somalia.

In 2017, two countries – Guinea and Mongolia – abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes. Guatemala became abolitionist for ordinary crimes only. Gambia signed an international treaty committing the country to not carry out executions and to move to abolish the death penalty in law.

Exonerations

At the end of 2017, 106 countries (a majority of the world’s states) had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes and 142 countries (more than two-thirds) had abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

Amnesty recorded commutations or pardons of death sentences in 21 countries: Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco/Western Sahara, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Tunisia, UAE, USA and Zimbabwe.

Fifty-five exonerations of prisoners under sentence of death were recorded in six countries: China, Maldives, Nigeria, Taiwan, USA and Zambia.

Amnesty International recorded at least 2,591 death sentences in 53 countries in 2017, a significant decrease from the record-high of 3,117 recorded in 2016. At least 21,919 people were known to be on death row at the end of 2017.

Methods of execution

The following methods of execution were used across the world in 2017: beheading, hanging, lethal injection and shooting. Public executions were carried out in Iran (at least 31).

Amnesty said reports from 2017 indicated that at least five people were executed in Iran who were under 18 at the time of the crime for which they were sentenced to death.

In many countries where people were sentenced to death or executed, the proceedings did not meet international fair trial standards, the organisation said. This included the extraction of alleged confessions through torture or other ill-treatment, including in Bahrain, China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Regional analysis

Americas

For the ninth consecutive year, the US remained the only country to carry out executions in the region. The number of executions (23) and death sentences (41) in the US slightly increased compared to 2016, but remained within the historically low trends of recent years.

For the second year in a row, and the second time since 2006, the US did not feature among the top five global executioners, with its position in the global ranking dropping from seventh to eighth.

The number of US states carrying out executions increased from five in 2016 to eight, with Arkansas, Ohio and Virginia resuming executions after a hiatus. Four states – Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri and Nebraska – as well as US federal courts, imposed death sentences in 2017, after a hiatus, bringing the number of US states imposing death sentences to 15 (two more than in 2016). Kansas, North Carolina and Oregon, which imposed death sentences in 2016, did not do so in 2017.

Only three countries in the region imposed death sentences – Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and the US. Guatemala became the 142nd country to have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

Asia-Pacific

At least 93 executions in nine countries were known to have been carried out throughout the region in 2017 – down from at least 130 in 11 countries in 2016. Amnesty said the decrease was linked to a decline in Pakistan, where executions reduced by 31%. These figures do not include the thousands of executions that Amnesty believes were carried out in China.

Singapore doubled its number of executions, from four to eight, compared to 2016. All its executions were for drug-related offences.

At least 1,037 new death sentences were imposed in the region, a slight decrease from 2016. This number is down to a variation in figures for a number of countries, and because of information provided to Amnesty by authorities. Figures for death sentences in India, Indonesia Pakistan and Thailand, among other countries, were lower compared to 2016.

Increases were recorded in countries including Bangladesh (from at least 245 to at least 273), Singapore (from at least seven to 15) and Sri Lanka (from at least 79 to 218).

Eighteen countries across the region were known to have imposed death sentences, the same number as in 2016. Brunei imposed a new death sentence after it did not impose any in 2016; Papua New Guinea did not impose any death sentences in 2017, after it did so in the previous year.

Across Asia-Pacific, the death penalty was extensively used for offences that did not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes”, going against international law, Amnesty stated.

Europe and Central Asia

In Europe and Central Asia, Belarus was the only country to execute people. The country carried out at least two executions in 2017, and at least four new death sentences were imposed.

One man remained under sentence of death in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan, Russia and Tajikistan continued to observe moratoriums on executions.

Middle East and North Africa

There was a small reduction in the use of the death penalty in this region in 2017. The number of executions recorded in the Middle East and North Africa decreased by 1%, from 856 in 2016 to 847 in 2017.

Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq remained the top three executing countries, accounting for 92% of executions in the region.

Iran executed at least 507 people, accounting for 60% of all confirmed executions in the region. Saudi Arabia executed 146 people, representing 17% of all confirmed executions in the region.

At least 264 executions were carried out for drug-related offences (27% of all recorded executions in 2017).

Amnesty International confirmed that at least 619 death sentences were imposed in the region in 2017, a reduction on the 764 death sentences recorded in 2016. Egypt imposed at least 402 death sentences, the most in the region.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Amnesty said a reduction in the number of executing countries was recorded in Sub-Saharan Africa. Two countries (Somalia and South Sudan) recorded executions in 2017, compared to five countries the previous year.

Twenty-eight executions were carried out: 24 in Somalia and four in South Sudan, a slight increase compared to the 22 recorded in 2016.

Overall, death sentences decreased, from at least 1,086 in 2016 to at least 878 in 2017. Nigeria imposed the highest number of death sentences in the region.

Guinea abolished the death penalty for all crimes, while Burkina Faso, Chad, Gambia and Kenya moved towards abolishing the death penalty.

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Órla Ryan

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