THE NUMBER of recorded executions carried out last year reached the highest figure in five years, Amnesty International said as it published a global report on the death penalty.

Amnesty’s 46-page report, Death Sentences and Executions 2022, shows that during 2022 a total of 883 people are known to have been executed across 20 countries, a rise of 53 per cent compared to the number of executions the organisation recorded during 2021. The large spike in executions – which does not include the thousands believed to have been carried out in China last year – was the result of sharp increases in several countries in the Middle East.

Excluding China, (where the authorities refuse to publish official data on the death penalty) 90 per cent of the world’s known executions last year were carried out by just three countries: Iran (576 executions, up from 314), Saudi Arabia (196 executions, up from 65) and Egypt (24 executions). The number of executions for Saudi Arabia was the highest Amnesty has recorded in 30 years, and comes at a time when the country is investing heavily in international sporting ventures as part of a long-term sportswashing drive.

The use of the death penalty remained shrouded in secrecy in several countries, including China, North Korea, and Vietnam – countries that are known to use the death penalty extensively – meaning that the true global figure is far higher than the minimum figure recorded by Amnesty. While the precise number of those killed in China is unknown, it is nevertheless certain that the country remained the world’s most prolific executioner, ahead of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the USA. During 2022, the USA carried out 18 executions, up from 11 the previous year.

Amnesty’s report also shows that executions resumed in five countries during 2022 – Afghanistan, Kuwait, Myanmar, the State of Palestine and Singapore.

While executions were up significantly during 2022, the number of recorded death sentences imposed on people remained at very nearly the same level as the previous year – with 2,016 new death sentences handed down during 2022 versus 2,052 in 2021. Globally, at least 28,282 people were under sentence of death at the end of 2022.

As of December 2022, 112 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes and nine countries had abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes only.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “Countries in the Middle East and North Africa region violated international law as they ramped up executions in 2022, revealing a callous disregard for human life.

“The number of individuals deprived of their lives rose dramatically across the region; Saudi Arabia executed a staggering 81 people in a single day.

“Most recently, in a desperate attempt to end the popular uprising, Iran executed people simply for exercising their right to protest.

“It’s time for governments and the UN to up the pressure on those responsible for these blatant human rights violations and ensure international safeguards are put in place.”

China’s executions and UK diplomacy

Though the Chinese authorities refuse to release information relating to their use of the death penalty, based on its monitoring Amnesty believes that the number of death sentences imposed and executions carried out in China during 2022 was – as in previous years – in the thousands. Economic crimes, such as corruption – which do not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes” under international law and standards – are punishable by death in China.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s Chief Executive, said: “The UK government regularly restates its formal ‘opposition’ to the death penalty but what is it actually doing to actively end its use in places like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or China?

“When the Foreign Secretary says we should ‘engage’ with China, in what way – if it all – can he point to the UK engaging with officials in Beijing over China’s appalling execution death toll?

“At the very least, James Cleverly should unequivocally call on the Chinese authorities to publish official data on China’s massive use of the death penalty, a deadly practice which is currently totally shrouded in secrecy.

“Opposition to the calculated cruelty of the death penalty requires well-resourced, human rights-focused UK diplomacy, and we’re increasingly concerned that the Government’s prioritisation of trade and security is undermining its efforts on human rights.”

Executions for drugs offences more than double

The recorded number of people executed for drug-related offences more than doubled in 2022 compared to 2021. Executions for drugs offences were recorded in Iran (255), Saudi Arabia (57), Singapore (11) and China, and amounted to 37% of total executions recorded globally by Amnesty. Executions for drug-related offences were also likely to have been carried out in Vietnam, yet these figures remain a state secret. Drug-related executions are in clear violation of international human rights law which states that executions should only be carried out for the “most serious crimes” (crimes that involve intentional killing).

Positive news

Amnesty’s report also charts global progress towards abolition of the death penalty. During 2022, six countries abolished the death penalty either fully or partially. Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic abolished capital punishment for all crimes, while Equatorial Guinea and Zambia abolished the death penalty for a certain number of crimes. Liberia and Ghana took legislative steps towards abolishing the death penalty, and the authorities in Sri Lanka and the Maldives said they would no longer resort to implementing death sentences. Bills to abolish the mandatory death penalty were also tabled in the Malaysian parliament.

* Read: Death Sentences and Executions 2022 here.

* Source: Amnesty International