In Depth

The death penalty: Who are the world's biggest executioners?

Amnesty International report reveals number of executions fell in 2016 - but China is keeping its figures secret

The number of executions across the world fell by more than a third in 2016, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

At least 1,032 people were executed in 23 countries last year, down from 1,634 in 2015. 

However, Amnesty says the number of death sentences imposed - 3,117 - is a significant increase on the previous year and exceeds the previous highest total recorded in 2014.

There is one country which was not included in the data but which is believed to have carried out more executions that the rest of the world: China.

Beijing carries out several thousand executions each year, but the figures are classified as state secrets.

Which countries still have the death penalty?

Some 57 countries retain the death penalty, while 141 countries, or more than two-thirds, have abolished it, either in law or in practice.

Benin and Nauru both abolished the death penalty for all crimes last year, while Chad and Guatemala took significant steps towards abolition. 

By contrast, after more than 60 years without any executions, Maldives last year took steps towards reintroducing the death penalty.

However, Amnesty reports, despite regressive moves in some grounds, the global trend remains towards abolishing the death penalty.

Who are the world's main executioners?

China does not release information about the death penalty, but Amnesty calls it "the world's top executioner" and believes it carries out judicial killings "in the thousands" every year. Beijing is thought to execute more people than the rest of the world combined.

There are 46 offences still punishable by death in China, continues Amnesty, and the authorities continue to use the death penalty to send political messages. 

The charity adds that it is impossible to verify claims that recent years have seen a decrease in executions following a review of death penalty cases.

Iran carried out at least 567 executions in 2016, more than half of Amnesty's attested total worldwide, although only 242 were announced through official or semi-official sources. At least 328 people were killed were for drug-related offences, says Amnesty.

Saudi Arabia executed 154 people, while executions in Iraq and Pakistan were set at 88 and 87 respectively.

What about the US?

The United States dropped out of the top five biggest executioners for the first time since 2006, with its figure of 20 people the lowest number recorded since 1991. Amnesty says the rate is half that of 2007 and a third that of 1997.

The states of Georgia and Texas were responsible for 80 per cent of all US executions in 2016. The number carried out in Georgia - nine - almost doubled compared to 2015, while in Texas, the figure dropped from 13 to seven.

There were still 2,832 people on death row at the end of 2016, although the number of death sentences decreased from 52 in 2015 to 32 in 2016 - its lowest since 1973.

What execution methods are used?

Hanging is carried out in 14 countries and is the most common method of execution. Shooting is used in eight countries. China, the United States and Vietnam all execute prisoners via lethal injection. 

Amnesty identifies Saudi Arabia as the only country to use beheading as a method of execution.

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