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World

China, Middle East dominate executions in 2020: Report

  • While 2020 saw an overall decline in the number of global death penalties, some countries increased the number of executions they carried out.
  • China is believed to be "the world's most prolific executioner", with Chinese authorities classifying the total number of death sentences and executions as state secrets, making them difficult to verify.
Updated 21 Apr 2021

While 2020 saw an overall decline in the number of global death penalties, some countries increased the number of executions they carried out.

Amnesty International, in its annual global review of the death penalty, stated that the unprecedented challenge of a global pandemic contributed to a decline in executions on an international scale between January and December 2020.

However, the human rights body added that 18 countries continued their trend of an alarming degree of executions in 2020, relying on official figures, judgements, media reports and information from families, individuals and civil societies to collate data for its report.

According to Agnes Callamard, the Secretary General of Amnesty International, "As the world focused on finding ways to protect lives from COVID-19, several governments showed a disturbing determination to resort to the death penalty and execute people no matter what".

Callamard added that "The death penalty is an abhorrent punishment and pursuing executions in the middle of a pandemic further highlights its inherent cruelty", stating that many people on death row were unable to access any legal representation, which is "a particularly egregious assault on human rights”.

The report mentioned that China is believed to be "the world's most prolific executioner", with Chinese authorities classifying the total number of death sentences and executions as state secrets, making them difficult to verify.

After China, four Middle Eastern countries – Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia – accounted for 88 percent of all known executions in 2020, according to the report.

Iran came in as the second-highest global executioner with more than 246 executions carried out in 2020, followed by Egypt with 107 executions, Iraq with 45 executions and Saudi Arabia with 27 executions.

“Despite the continued pursuit of the death penalty by some governments, the overall picture in 2020 was positive,” said Callamard.

“We urge leaders in all countries that have not yet repealed this punishment to make 2021 the year that they end state-sanctioned killings for good,” she added.