At least 1634 people were executed last year, according to Amnesty International annual figures released yesterday. This marked a rise of about 50 per cent from the year before and the highest number recorded by the organisation since 1989.

According to the rights group, three countries - Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia - were responsible for almost 90 per cent of total recorded executions last year. These figures do not include executions in China.

Amnesty said most executions took place in China, Iran (977), Pakistan (320), Saudi Arabia (158) and the United States (28) - in that order. However, Amnesty stopped attempting to record data on executions in China in 2009 because of restrictions on access to information.

Not for the past 25 years have so many people been put to death by states around the world, said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's secretary general.


"Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have all put people to death at unprecedented levels, often after grossly unfair trials. This slaughter must end."

Shetty notes that only a minority of the world's nations still have capital punishment on the books; the United States is conspicuous as the only country in the Americas to have carried out an execution last year.

The US followed Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, with 28 executions last year.

The Amnesty report notes that:

Pakistan continued the state-sanctioned killing spree it embarked on when it lifted a moratorium on civilian executions in December 2014. More than 320 people were sent to the gallows in 2015, the highest number Amnesty International has ever recorded for Pakistan.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are regional adversaries - the former a Shia theocratic state, the latter a kingdom that sees itself as the custodian of Sunni Islam.

An execution in Saudi Arabia of a prominent Shia cleric in January prompted a dangerous political crisis with Iran, where protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

Pakistan, meanwhile, reacted to a ghastly 2014 terror attack in Peshawar by scrapping an unofficial moratorium on executions.

The death sentences carried out, though, did not include that many charged on terror-related offences, according to Champa Patel of Amnesty International's South Asia office.

"At a time when a majority of countries have abolished the death penalty, it is alarming that Pakistan has decided to move so fast in the opposite direction," Patel said.

"The death penalty is always a rights violation, but its use in Pakistan is all the more troubling given the serious fair trial concerns - including insufficient access to lawyers and endemic police torture to extract 'confessions'."

List comes with asterisk

Capital punishment continued its steady decline in the United States last year but the country remains among the world's leaders in the death penalty.

The US came in at No 5 - again - on the list of countries that carried out executions last year, according to the Amnesty International report. That list comes with a bit of an asterisk, of course.

While the US had more confirmed executions than Iraq (26 recorded executions), Somalia (25) and Egypt (22), Amnesty notes that it believes more executions likely took place in those countries - it just couldn't confirm them. So while Amnesty believes Saudi Arabia carried out more than 158 executions, it could only confirm 158, the report states.

Amnesty found that executions occurred in 25 countries, up from the 22 countries that executed people a year earlier.

In the US, all 28 executions were carried out by lethal injection.

Other countries last year turned to beheading (Saudi Arabia), hanging (multiple countries) and shooting (multiple countries) those put to death. At least 20,292 people worldwide were under a death sentence at the end of last year.

- Bloomberg