A surge in executions in Iran and Iraq drove the number of death sentences up 15 percent in 2013, according to a new report by Amnesty International.
At least 778 executions were performed worldwide last year.
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Those numbers did not include China, which remains the world's biggest state executioner by far with an estimated 1,000-plus deaths in 2013, the London-based human rights organization said in its report released Thursday.
Beijing keeps such information top secret.
Iran ranked next on the list with at least 369 executions reported in 2013, followed by Iraq at 169.
Saudi Arabia (79) and the United States (39) rounded out the top five.
While the number of executions in Saudi Arabia remained consistent in 2013, executions in Iran and Iraq increased by 18 percent and 30 percent, respectively, according to the report.
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In contrast, the number of death sentences in the Middle East and North Africa dropped for the second year in a row.
An exact number of executions in Syria and Egypt — one in the midst of a civil war and the other with frequent clashes and a government crackdown — could not be confirmed.
Earlier this week, an Egyptian court sentenced 529 alleged supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to death after a two-session trial, an action Amnesty International called "grotesque."
There was some good news in the report: Both Europe and Central Asia had no reported executions for the first time since 2009.
The number of people put to death in the US continued to drop in 2013, according to the report, although more than 40 percent of the 39 executions reported last year occurred in Texas.
“We oppose the death penalty in all cases, without exception,” Jose Luis Diaz, Amnesty International’s representative at the United Nations, told reporters. “It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”