China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the US were the world's top five executioners in 2012, according to Amnesty International.
A report from the London-based human rights organization found that Beijing — though it kept executions secret — carried out over 1,000. Iran was responsible for 314 executions, Iraq for 129, Saudi Arabia for 79 and the US for 43. According to the report, 682 people were executed in 2012 in all countries other than China.
The United States is the only country in the Americas practicing capital punishment.
While the use of the death penalty was generally diminishing around the world in 2012, a handful of countries resumed capital punishment after several years without executions, Amnesty said in its report.
At least four countries that had not used the death penalty for some time — India, Japan, Pakistan and Gambia — resumed in 2012.
The use of the death penalty remained restricted, with only 21 countries recorded as having carried out executions in 2012 – the same number as in 2011, but down from 28 countries a decade earlier in 2003.
The report also listed methods of execution by country:
- In Saudi Arabia, convicted offenders were decapitated;
- In Iran, Iraq and Japan, and also in some of the executions carried out by the Hamas government in Gaza, offenders were hung;
- China and the US used lethal injections;
- and Belarus, North Korea and Hamas used firing squads.
Amnesty International is against the use of the death penalty, "without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner," the report stated. "The organization campaigns for the total abolition of capital punishment."
Radio Free Asia cited Mabel Au, director of the Hong Kong branch of Amnesty International, as saying that the group had arrived at its estimate of the Chinese executions by using official media reports of executions.
"Back in 2008, 2009, they stopped making the figures public. Apart from the figures we can get from some publicly available media, we estimate that the figures are much higher. I don't know why they are afraid to let people know about cases involving the death penalty, if the accused had a fair trial and there was sufficient evidence to convict."