Death penalty in 2018: Facts and figures

Global death penalty figures

Amnesty International recorded at least 690 executions in 20 countries in 2018, a decrease of 31% compared to 2017 (at least 993). This figure represents the lowest number of executions that Amnesty International has recorded in the past decade.

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

China remained the world’s leading executioner – but the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is classified as a state secret; the global figure of at least 690 excludes the thousands of executions believed to have been carried out in China.

The authorities of Viet Nam indicated in November that 85 executions had been carried out during 2018, placing the country among the world’s top five executioners.

Excluding China, 78% of all reported executions took place in just four countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Viet Nam and Iraq.

Botswana, Sudan, Taiwan and Thailand all resumed executions last year. Amnesty International did not report any executions in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Palestine(State of) and United Arab Emirates (UAE), despite having done so in 2017.

Executions in Iran dropped from at least 507 in 2017 to at least 253 in 2018 – a decrease of 50%. Executions in Iraq decreased from at least 125 in 2017 to at least 52 in 2018, while in Pakistan, executions fell from at least 60 in 2017 to at least 14 in 2018. Somalia halved its executions, down from 24 in 2017 to 13 in 2018.

Burkina Faso abolished the death penalty in its new penal code in June. In February and July respectively, Gambia and Malaysia both declared an official moratorium on executions. In the US, the death penalty statute in the state of Washington was declared unconstitutional in October.

At the end of 2018, 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 International recorded commutations or pardons of death sentences in 29 countries: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Botswana, China, Egypt, Guyana, India, Iran, Kuwait, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Morocco/Western Sahara, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, South Korea, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, UAE, USA and Zimbabwe.

Eight exonerations of prisoners under sentence of death were recorded in four countries: Egypt, Kuwait, Malawi and USA.

Amnesty International recorded at least 2,531 death sentences in 54 countries, a slight decrease from the total of 2,591 reported in 2017.

At least 19,336 people were known to be under sentence of death globally at the end of 2018.

The following methods of execution were used across the world in 2018: beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and shooting. Two new death sentences by stoning were known to have been imposed in Iran.

Reports from 2018 indicated seven people were executed in Iran for crimes committed when they were younger than 18 years of age.

At least 98 executions were known to have been carried out for drug-related offences in 4 countries – 14% of the global total and down from 28% in 2017. At least 226 of such death sentences were known to have been imposed in 14 countries.

Death sentences were known to have been imposed after proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards in countries including Bangladesh, Belarus, China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Viet Nam.

Regional death penalty analysis


For the 10th consecutive year, the USA remained the only country to carry out executions in the region.

The number of executions (25) and death sentences (45) reported in the US slightly increased compared to 2017.

The state of Texas nearly doubled its figure compared to 2017 (from 7 to 13), accounting for just over half of the country’s total. Nebraska carried out its first execution since 1997; South Dakota since 2012; and Tennessee since 2009.

Only two countries, USA and Guyana, imposed death sentences – the lowest recorded number since Amnesty International began keeping records in 1979.

The death penalty statute in the US state of Washington was declared unconstitutional in October.


At least 136 executions in nine countries were known to have been carried out throughout the region in 2018, compared to at least 93 in 2017. This increase was mostly due to the rare disclosure of a figure from the authorities of Viet Nam. It does not include the thousands of executions that Amnesty International believed were carried out in China.

Thailand resumed executions for the first time since 2009.

Japan more than tripled its annual figure (from 4 to 15), after the hanging of 13 men involved in a high-profile case, which saw a deadly Sarin chemical attack on the Tokyo underground in 1995.

Singapore reported 13 executions, the first time since 2003 that its execution total reached a double-digit figure.

Pakistan reported a drop of 77% drop in executions, from 60 in 2017 to at least 14 in 2018.

Malaysia announced a moratorium on executions and a review of its death penalty laws.

At least 1,100 new death sentences across 17 countries were known to have been imposed, a slight increase from the total of 1,037 recorded the previous year.

Europe and Central Asia

At least four executions were recorded in Belarus in 2018, compared to two in 2017. The last time another country in the region carried out executions was in 2005.

Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan continued to observe moratoriums on executions.

Middle East and North Africa

The number of executions recorded by Amnesty International in the Middle East and North Africa region dropped by 41%, from 847 in 2017 to 501 in 2018, the lowest number of executions recorded in the region.

Five countries – Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – were known to have carried out executions, a 50% drop in executing countries.

Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq remained the top executing countries in the region, carrying out at least 454 recorded executions between them, 91% of the total number in the whole of the region.

There were 1,170 recorded death sentences in 2018, marking an 89% increase compared to 2017, when 619 death sentences were recorded. Egypt imposed the highest number of confirmed death sentences in the region with at least 717 people sentenced to death compared to at least 402 in 2017.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Four countries – Botswana, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan – carried out executions in 2018.

A drop in recorded executions in Somalia drove an overall decrease in the region, from 28 in 2017 to 24 in 2018, despite an alarming increase in executions in South Sudan.

Recorded death sentences reduced from at least 878 in 2017 to at least 212 in 2018.

The number of countries that imposed death sentences increased to 17 from 15 recorded in 2017.

Burkina Faso abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes only, and Gambia established a moratorium on executions and ratified an international treaty committing it to abolishing the death penalty.