Executions Globally Rise To Highest Level In Almost 10 Years

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John Oyewale Contributor
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Executions soared to a nearly 10-year high between 2015 and 2023, with Iran largely responsible for the spike and the U.S. faltering in its progress away from the death penalty, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

A total of 1,153 executions occurred worldwide in 2023, up by over 30% from 2022, Amnesty International’s annual report on the global use of the death penalty revealed. The figure—the highest recorded since 2015, when 1,634 executions went on record—”does not include the thousands believed to have been carried out in China,” according to the human rights organization. Vietnam, like China, keeps execution data “a state secret,” the report revealed. Data on executions carried out in Belarus and North Korea in 2023 were also either scant or not at all available.

China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and the U.S. in that order executed the highest number of individuals on record, the report showed. The first three countries led by a long shot—over 1,000 putatively in China, over 853 in Iran, and 172 in Saudi Arabia. Executions in the U.S. stood at 24, having risen by 33% from 18 in 2022. The figure remained historically low but showed the U.S. was faltering while moving away from the death penalty, according to the report.

“A select number of US states demonstrated a chilling commitment to the death penalty and a callous intent to invest resources in the taking of human life,” Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said. “Executions via the cruel new method of nitrogen asphyxiation have also come into use with Alabama shamefully using this untested method to kill Kenneth Smith earlier this year, just 14 months after subjecting him to a botched execution attempt.”

“President Biden must stop delaying his promise to abolish the federal death penalty,” Callamard added.

Amnesty International also mentioned Idaho, Tennessee, Montana, and South Carolina as states where executions potentially could increase or take new forms. (RELATED: ‘I Can’t Imagine The Anxiety’: Oklahoma Executes Man Claiming Self-Defense Despite Board Recommendation For Clemency)

Sub-Saharan Africa also witnessed a setback as executions more than tripled from 11 in 2022 to 38 in 2023 and no country in the region abolished the death penalty, the report indicated.

Death sentences handed out worldwide reportedly stood at 2,428, increasing by 20%.

Some 74% of all recorded executions in 2023 occurred in Iran, the report showed. These executions, up by 48% (576) in 2022, appeared to target Iran’s Baluchi ethnic minority. Although this ethnic group constitutes only 5% of the population, they received 20% of the recorded executions. Some 24 women and five children were among the executed. At least 545 of the executions were for offenses that did not warrant the death penalty. The Iranian government weaponizes the death penalty to stoke a chilling effect in the populace and tighten its grip on power, Amnesty International reported.

Executions in Iran spiked particularly in the wake of protests over Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody in 2022, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

Nevertheless, “112 countries are fully abolitionist and 144 in total have abolished the death penalty in law or practice,” Amnesty International reported.