Death sentences 'running at record levels' although execution toll falls

China keeps its official tally of those executed as a state secret but previous year it put to death more people than all other countries in the world combined, Amnesty's investigation showed.

However that annual figure does not include China, as it is unknown and regarded as a "state secret", but Amnesty still believes the number to be in the thousands and more than all other countries put together.

Oversight of death-sentence cases was returned to China's highest court, the Supreme People's Court, in 2007.

For the first time since 2006, the US was not one of the five biggest executioners, falling to seventh behind Egypt.

Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan carried out 87 percent of the global total executions. It is estimated to be in the 1,000's each year.

The number of executions has been falling since 2009, while the number of death sentences was the lowest since 1973.

Parliamentary pressure in Malaysia revealed that more than 1,000 people were on death row, with nine people executed in 2016 alone. The Chinese government has been following a policy of "killing fewer, killing cautiously" (少杀慎杀) for a decade, and are keen to present an image to the world of at least attempting to reduce the number of executions, the report said. The top three were murder (57 percent), robbery (23 percent) and drug-related offences (13 percent).

Amnesty International has always cautioned that its figures, compiled on the best available information, may not reflect the real total.

At least 44 people were executed in Egypt in 2016, the report says, having received sentences in relation to "terrorism" and political violence. This, it said, violated worldwide law.

China has faced longstanding pressure from the global community to curb its use of the death penalty, which reached a frenzy in 1983 with 24,000 executions. "There is strong public support for the death penalty", Ugwu said.

Meanwhile, Belarus and authorities within the Palestinian territories resumed executions in 2016 after a year's hiatus, while Botswana and Nigeria carried out their first executions since 2013. Since 1977, we have been calling on all countries in the world that are yet to abolish the death penalty, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa to establish an official moratorium on executions as a fast step towards abolishing the death penalty. Only 64 countries were fully abolitionist in 1997.

But Amnesty says it has managed to calculate that the figure is more than the 1,032 people killed by the state in other countries in 2016.

Benin and Nauru both abolished the death penalty for all crimes previous year, while Chad and Guatemala took significant steps towards abolition.

At least eight women and two minors were among those executed by Iran in 2016, according to official sources, with Amnesty noting it was possible there were at least five more executions of children under 18 years of age.

  • Rogelio Becker