Recorded executions skyrocket to highest figure in five years
May 16, 2023
- Highest number of judicial executions recorded globally since 2017
- 81 people executed in a single day in Saudi Arabia
- 20 countries known to have carried out executions
- Six countries abolished the death penalty fully or partially
Recorded executions in 2022 reached the highest figure in five years, as the Middle East and North Africa’s most notorious executioners carried out killing sprees, Amnesty International said today as it released its annual review of the death penalty.
A total of 883 people were known to have been executed across 20 countries, marking a rise of 53% over 2021. This spike in executions, which does not include the thousands believed to have been carried out in China last year, was led by countries in the Middle East and North Africa, where recorded figures rose from 520 in 2021 to 825 in 2022.
“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,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
Disturbingly, 90% of the world’s known executions outside China were carried out by just three countries in the region. Recorded executions in Iran soared from 314 in 2021 to 576 in 2022; figures tripled in Saudi Arabia, from 65 in 2021 to 196 in 2022 — the highest recorded by Amnesty in 30 years — while Egypt executed 24 individuals.
The use of the death penalty remained shrouded in secrecy in several countries, including China, North Korea, and Viet Nam — countries that are known to use the death penalty extensively — meaning that the true global figure is far higher. While the precise number of those killed in China is unknown, it is clear that the country remained the world’s most prolific executioner, ahead of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the USA.
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.Agnès Callamard, Secretary General, Amnesty International
Five countries resumed executions: Afghanistan, Kuwait, Myanmar, the State of Palestine and Singapore
Executions resumed in five countries in 2022 — Afghanistan, Kuwait, Myanmar, the State of Palestine and Singapore — while an increase in executions was also recorded for Iran (314 to 576), Saudi Arabia (65 to 196), and the USA (11 to 18).
The recorded number of people executed for drug-related offences more than doubled in 2022 compared to 2021. Drug-related executions are in 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. These executions were recorded in China, Saudi Arabia (57), Iran (255) and Singapore (11), and amounted to 37% of total executions recorded globally by the organization. Executions for drug-related offences were likely to have been carried out in Viet Nam, yet these figures remain state secrets.
It’s often those from disadvantaged backgrounds that are disproportionately affected by this callous punishment.
“In a cruel twist, close to 40% of all known executions were for drug-related offences. Importantly, it’s often those from disadvantaged backgrounds that are disproportionately affected by this callous punishment,” said Agnès Callamard. “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.”
While executions were up, the total number of recorded death sentences imposed on people remained essentially the same, with a slight decrease from 2,052 in 2021 to 2,016 in 2022.
A glimmer of hope
Against this bleak backdrop, there was a glimmer of hope as six countries abolished the death penalty either fully or partially.
Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic abolished the death penalty for all crimes, while Equatorial Guinea and Zambia abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes only.
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.
As many countries continue to consign the death penalty to the dustbin of history, it’s time for others to follow suit.
The positive momentum continued as Liberia and Ghana took legislative steps toward abolishing the death penalty, while the authorities of Sri Lanka and the Maldives said they would not resort to implementing death sentences. Bills to abolish the mandatory death penalty were also tabled in the Malaysian Parliament.
“As many countries continue to consign the death penalty to the dustbin of history, it’s time for others to follow suit. The brutal actions of countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia as well as China, North Korea and Viet Nam are now firmly in the minority. These countries should urgently catch up with the times, protect human rights, and execute justice rather than people,” said Agnès Callamard.
“With 125 UN member states — more than ever before — calling for a moratorium on executions, Amnesty International has never felt more hopeful that this abhorrent punishment can and will be relegated to the annals of history. But 2022’s tragic figures remind us that we can’t rest on our laurels. We will continue to campaign until the death penalty is abolished across the globe.”
Amnesty International recorded 883 executions in 20 countries in 2022, marking a 53% increase from 579 recorded in 2021. This figure represents the highest number of executions that Amnesty International has recorded in the past five years (since 2017, when 993 executions were recorded).
China remained the world’s leading executioner, but the true extent of the use of the death penalty in this country remains unknown as this data remains classified as a state secret. The global figure recorded by Amnesty International excludes the thousands of executions believed to have been carried out in China, as well as those carried out in Viet Nam and North Korea where Amnesty International believes the death penalty was resorted to extensively.
Most known executions took place in China (1000s), Iran (at least 576) Saudi Arabia (196), Egypt (24), and the USA (18).
In 2022, 93% of known global executions (excluding China) were carried out in the Middle East and North Africa.
The 196 executions recorded in Saudi Arabia were the highest yearly total known for this country in 30 years.
A total of 13 women were known to have been executed in the world: Iran (12) and Saudi Arabia (1).
Amnesty International recorded executions in 20 countries, compared to 18 countries in 2021.
Violating international law
325 executions were recorded for drug-related offences: 255 in Iran; 57 in Saudi Arabia; 11 in Singapore; and in China (+). In calculating the global total of executions carried out for drug-related offences, two were counted for China in accordance with Amnesty International’s research methodology.
At least 3 public executions were recorded in Afghanistan (1+) and Iran (2).
In Iran, at least 5 people were executed for crimes that occurred when they were below 18 years of age.
Executions resumed in five countries: Afghanistan, Kuwait, Myanmar, Palestine (State of) and Singapore.
Botswana, UAE and Oman carried out executions in 2021, but did not do so in 2022.
The following methods of execution were used in 2022: beheading, hanging, lethal injection and shooting.
Global death sentences
At least 2,016 new death sentences across 52 countries were imposed in 2022, compared to at least 2,052 in 56 countries in 2021.
Amnesty International recorded commutations or pardons of death sentences in 26 countries.
Five countries — Bahrain, Comoros, Laos, Niger and South Korea — handed down death sentences after a hiatus.
Amnesty International recorded at least 28 exonerations of prisoners who had been sentenced to death in four countries: Kenya (20), Morocco/Western Sahara (1), the USA (2), and Zimbabwe (5).
Globally, at least 28,282 people were under sentence of death at the end of 2022.
Abolishing the death penalty
Six countries abolished the death penalty either fully (Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, and the Central African Republic) or partially (Equatorial Guinea and Zambia, who abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes only) in 2022.
At the end of 2022, 112 countries were abolitionist for all crimes, while 9 were abolitionist for ordinary crimes only.
For the 14th consecutive year, the USA remained the only country in the region to carry out executions
The number of executions carried out in the USA increased by 64%, rising from 11 in 2021 to 18 in 2022.
Outgoing Governor of Oregon Kate Brown commuted all remaining death sentences in the state.
For the sixth consecutive year, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and the USA were the onlycountries in the region that imposed new death sentences.
In Asia-Pacific, eight countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Japan, Myanmar, North Korea, Singapore and Viet Nam) are known to have carried out executions in 2022, an increase from five in 2021.
The number of new death sentences recorded regionally increased by 5% from 819 in 2021 to 861 in 2022.
Military authorities carried out the first executions in Myanmar in four decades, including the execution of two high-profile opposition politicians.
Executions also resumed after a hiatus in Afghanistan and Singapore.
Papua New Guinea became the 21st country in the Asia-Pacific region to abolish the death penalty for all crimes.
Europe and Central Asia
Belarus carried out one execution in 2022. It was the only country in Europe and Central Asia to do so.
Kazakhstan abolished the death penalty for all crimes and ratified a key UN treaty on abolition.
Russia and Tajikistan continued to observe moratoriums on executions.
The Middle East and North Africa
The number of executions recorded in the Middle East and North Africa region increased by 59%, rising from 520 in 2021 to 825 in 2022.
94% of executions recorded in the region were carried out in Iran (70%) and Saudi Arabia (24%).
Executions resumed in Kuwait and the State of Palestine for the first time since 2017.
Recorded death sentences in the region decreased slightly from 834 in 2021 to 827 in 2022. Death sentences were imposed in 16 countries in 2022, compared to 17 in 2021.
Recorded executions in the region decreased by 67%, from 33 in 2021 to 11 in 2022.
The only known executions were recorded in Somalia and South Sudan.
Recorded death sentences fell by 20%, from 373 in 2021 to 298 in 2022.
Death sentences were recorded in 16 countries in 2022, compared to 19 in 2021.
Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic abolished the death penalty for all crimes, while Equatorial Guinea and Zambia abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes only.