In Brief

Amnesty report reveals global spike in executions

Iran and Iraq drove a worldwide increase, while Texas was responsible for 40 per cent of American executions

THE number of state sanctioned executions worldwide rose 15 per cent in 2013, a new report from Amnesty International has revealed.

At least 778 executions are known to have been carried out in 2013, compared to 682 in 2012. But this figure does not include the thousands of people believed to have been put to death in China, where information on executions is a state secret.

The increase was driven largely by "an increasingly isolated group of entrenched executioners", the charity said. Almost 80 per cent of all known death penalties were recorded in just three countries: Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

"The virtual killing sprees we saw in countries like Iran and Iraq were shameful. But those states who cling to the death penalty are on the wrong side of history and are, in fact, growing more and more isolated," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's Secretary General, in a statement.

In Iran, executions rose by 18 per cent to 369 in 2013. Iraq's increase was even more pronounced, with a leap of 30 per cent since 2012 to 169. Many of the Iranians put to death were convicted of "vaguely defined terrorism-related offences", Amnesty reports. Saudi Arabia's execution rate remained static with 79 people put to death in both 2012 and 2013.

The top five countries in terms of total executions were China, presumed to have executed thousands, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United States where 39 executions took place last year.

In spite of the global rise in execution, many countries are moving away from capital punishment, Amnesty said. Over the last 20 years, the total number of countries carrying out executions has dropped from 37 in 1994 to 22 in 2013.

"The long-term trend is clear," Shetty said. "The death penalty is becoming a thing of the past."

The United States remains the only country in the Americas where capital punishment is practised. Of the country's 39 executions, 16 were in the state of Texas. Maryland became the 18th US state to abolish the death penalty, AFP reports.

"We urge all governments who still kill in the name of justice to impose a moratorium on the death penalty immediately, with a view to abolishing it," Shetty said.

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