Global Executions Reach Highest Number Since 2015: Iran and Saudi Arabia Lead

Amnesty International's latest report reveals a staggering increase in global executions, with the number reaching its highest since 2015, and a notable rise in executions in the USA, which went from 18 to 24

by Sededin Dedovic
Global Executions Reach Highest Number Since 2015: Iran and Saudi Arabia Lead
© VICE News / Youtube channel

In the Amnesty International (AI) report on the death penalty worldwide, it is noted that at least 1,153 people were executed last year by beheading, hanging, shooting, or poisoning. This is a 31 percent increase compared to 2022 and the highest number since 2015, reports DW.

One reason for the increase in executions in 2023 is the end of the coronavirus pandemic, explains Max Maisauer, a death penalty expert at AI in Germany, to DW: "During the pandemic, the number of executions in the world decreased due to health measures in prisons.

Additionally, there were fewer resources for executions." The number of newly sentenced death penalties worldwide also increased: 2,428 death sentences were handed down in 52 countries in 2023. This is a 20 percent increase compared to the previous year.

As a success, AI notes the reduction in the number of countries carrying out executions. "More and more countries are abandoning the cruel practice of executing the death penalty," says AI's Secretary-General in Germany, Julia Duchrow.

The number of these countries fell from 20 in 2022 to 16 in 2023—no executions were recorded in Belarus, Japan, Myanmar, and South Sudan. To date, 144 countries have abolished the death penalty.

**Executions by State**

Of the 16 countries that carried out executions, only a few are responsible for the dramatic increase in executions.

AI believes that China still sentences and executes the most people. Since everything in China is conducted in strict secrecy, the report does not contain data on the likely thousands of executions. A similar situation exists in North Korea and Vietnam, where a large number of executions are presumed to be carried out.

A protester holds a sign up against a backdrop of palm trees during an anti-death penalty protest© David McNew / Getty Images

"The dramatic increase in executions and the number of executions worldwide is shocking.

AI's data shows only the tip of the iceberg, as we do not have accurate data from some countries," says Renata Alt. This German Liberal (FDP) politician is the chairwoman of the Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid Committee of the German Parliament Bundestag.

Iran carried out almost three-quarters (at least 853) of all executions, while Saudi Arabia is responsible for 15 percent (172). Additionally, Somalia, with at least 38 executions, and the USA, with 24 executions, have increased the number of death sentences carried out.

**Death Penalty for Drug Offenses**

Over 60 percent of executions were for offenses that, according to international law, should not be punishable by death—primarily drug-related crimes. In Iran, there were at least 246 executions in 2020, says Maisauer.

"In our current report, we have more than 853. These are numbers that are almost exponentially growing." "A major topic last year was Singapore. They tried to solve the drug problem with excessive use of the death penalty," explains Max Maisauer.

**Confessions Extracted by Torture**

In Saudi Arabia, the country with the third-largest number of executions, the situation has improved from the perspective of human rights activists only at first glance. Although the number of executions (slightly) decreased by 12 percent, bringing it down to 172, the report states that 'confessions' were extracted under torture and death sentences were handed down contrary to international law and after trials that were neither fair nor just.

The case of Mohamad al-Ghamdi is cited as an example. In July 2023, the former teacher was sentenced to death. His crime: critical posts on social media. Saudi Arabia was the only country last year that executed people by beheading with a sword.

Additionally, in Iran and Saudi Arabia, many executions are for relatively undefined offenses or infractions. "For example, the death penalty is imposed for the vaguely defined crime of enmity against God," explains Max Maisauer.

**Concerns About the US and Sub-Saharan Africa**

AI is also concerned about the USA, where the number of executions increased from 18 to 24. In the American states of Idaho and Tennessee, laws have been proposed that allow executions by shooting, while Montana is considering expanding the list of poisons and substances for lethal injections.

This trend seems to continue this year. "Kenneth Smith in the state of Alabama was executed in January by a previously untested method of nitrogen gas suffocation. The execution took place 14 months after he survived a failed execution attempt," the report states.

Somalia ranks fifth in executions. AI recorded a "dramatic increase in executions," from 11 in 2022 to 38 in 2023. In the sub-Saharan Africa region, registered death penalties "drastically" increased by 66 percent: 494 lives were taken.

**Diplomacy Against the Death Penalty**

Germany attempts to pressure countries that carry out the death penalty primarily through bilateral talks, official protests, and raising the issue of death penalties during state visits and international meetings.

Amnesty believes this is not enough. "We want the German government to pay more attention to fighting the death penalty and to ensure clear diplomatic consequences for countries that deviate negatively," says human rights activist Max Maisauer.

In the essay "Reflections on the Guillotine" from 1957, Albert Camus presented strong arguments against the death penalty. For the French writer and philosopher, the death penalty is not a means of justice, but an expression of revenge, retaliation.

Maisauer fully agrees with Camus and concludes: "The death penalty tries to give an appearance of justice. But in reality, it is about satisfying the most primitive instincts in society. It has nothing to do with justice. It is and remains revenge."

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