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death penalty: Number of executions at rock bottom worldwide

The number of documented executions worldwide fell last year to its lowest level in a decade. According to the annual statistics of the human rights organization Amnesty International, the death penalty was carried out 657 times in 20 countries. That is a decrease of five percent compared to 2018. But there were also countries in which the number of executions increased: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen.

"The death penalty is incompatible with basic human rights and should finally be abolished worldwide," said Amnesty International's head of Germany, Markus Beeko. The vast majority of states recognize this. "We need to focus more international attention on the small group of states that execute people year after year."

China and Iran execute most of the people

The countries with the most executions are China and Iran, according to the Amnesty. China is not included in the statistics, however, because the executions there are kept secret and precise documentation is not possible. Amnesty estimates the number of people executed in China at several thousand. 251 people were executed in Iran, including four minors. Here, too, a large number of unreported cases is assumed.

According to the report, the majority of all executions, 88 percent, take place in countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Alongside China and Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt are among the countries with the highest number of executions.

Executions in Saudi Arabia and Iraq are increasing

The human rights organization is particularly concerned about developments in Saudi Arabia, which is presiding over the G20 group of leading economic powers this year. In the past year, 184 people were executed in the kingdom - an increase of 23 percent and the highest number that Amnesty International has ever documented for Saudi Arabia.

Most of the death sentences were passed for drug offenses and murder. The Saudi leadership is also using the death penalty as a "political weapon" against opposition members of the Shiite minority, Amnesty criticizes. As an example, the organization cites a mass execution of 37 people, including 32 Shiite men.

According to Amnesty research, there was also a significant increase in executions in Iraq - from at least 52 in 2018 to at least 100 in 2019. This is mainly due to death sentences against people who are members of the terrorist organization "Islamic State" ( IS) is accused, it says in the report.

Several countries in Africa want to abolish the death penalty

But there are also positive developments. In more and more African countries there are tendencies to abolish the death penalty. The President of Equatorial Guinea announced that it would enact a law to abolish the death penalty. There are also first steps in this direction in Kenya, Gambia, the Central African Republic and Zimbabwe.

Currently, of the roughly 200 countries in the world, 106 have abolished the death penalty by law for all crimes and another 36 in practice. Amnesty highlighted an official moratorium on executions in the US state of California. California is the US state with the largest number of death row inmates. The US states of New Hampshire and Colorado abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Some other US states, however, still execute people and there is still the death penalty at the US federal level.

Amnesty is not only positive about the downward trend in the execution of the death penalty, the number of death sentences also fell in 2019. According to the research, it was 2,307 in 56 countries, compared to 2,531 in 54 countries in 2018 (each excluding China).