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Amnesty International Global Report: Recorded Executions Highest in Five Years Reflects Increases in the Middle East and North Africa

Shown is the east block of death row at San Quentin State Prison Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016, in San Quentin, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

By Death Penalty Information Center

According to an annual death penalty report by Amnesty International, 2022 saw the highest number of recorded executions since 2017, primarily due to increases in just a handful of countries in the Middle East and North Africa.  The report also noted a slight decrease in the number of newly imposed death sentences worldwide. In its report, Amnesty says use of the death penalty in several countries continues to violate international law with public executions, executions of juveniles or those with mental or intellectual disabilities, unfair trial proceedings, and coerced confessions obtained under torture or ill-treatment.

Global Report: Death Sentences and Executions 2022 states that there were 883 known executions in 20 countries – a 53% increase from the prior year and the highest number since 2017. The actual number of executions is likely higher as numbers from China, North Korea, and Vietnam are unknown due to secrecy practices. A 59% increase in executions in the Middle East and North Africa region, where 93% of the world’s known executions occur, was the leading cause for this uptick globally. Within this outlier region, two countries – Iran (70%) and Saudi Arabia (24%) – account for 94% of the 825 executions.

“Countries in the Middle East and North Africa region violated international law as they ramped up executions in 2022, revealing a callous disregard for human life. The number of individuals deprived of their lives rose dramatically across the region; Saudi Arabia executed a staggering 81 people in a single day. Most recently, in a desperate attempt to end the popular uprising, Iran executed people simply for exercising their right to protest,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

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Excluding the estimated thousands of executions in China, the highest number of known executions occurred in Iran, where there was an 83% increase in executions from the previous year. Of the 576 executions in Iran, convictions for murder (48%) and drug-related offenses (44%) were the largest categories, with a 75% increase in executions for murder and a 93% increase in drug-related offenses over the previous year.  The number of executions in Saudi Arabia tripled from 2021 to a total of 196 in 2022. Following the end of a 2020 moratorium on the death penalty for drug-related offenses, there were 57 executions for drug crimes recorded in 2022. 

A total of 2,016 new death sentences was recorded last year in 52 countries, compared to 2,052 death sentences in 56 countries during the prior year. However, there was a significant increase in the number of new death sentences in several countries: Algeria (from 9 to 54), Egypt (from 356+ to 538), India (from 144 to 165), Kenya (from 14 to 79), Kuwait (from 5+ to 16+), Nigeria (from 56+ to 77+), and Tunisia (from 3+ to 26+). According to the report, at least 28,282 people were under sentence of death at the end of 2022, although accurate estimates were difficult to obtain for China, Egypt, Iran, Libya, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. There were commutations or pardons in 26 counties, and at least 28 exonerations of prisoners in four countries – Kenya (20), Morocco/Western Sahara (1), USA (2), Zimbabwe (5). 

Continuing the worldwide trend away from use of the death penalty, four countries – Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic – abolished the death penalty for all crimes, and two countries – Equatorial Guinea and Zambia – abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes only. At the United Nations General Assembly in December 2022, the ninth resolution calling for a global moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view towards its ultimate abolition passed with the support of a record 125 member states.

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Death Penalty Information Center

The Death Penalty Information Center is a national non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment. Founded in 1990, the Center promotes informed discussion of the death penalty by preparing in-depth reports, conducting briefings for journalists, and serving as a resource to those working on this issue. The Center releases an annual report on the death penalty, highlighting significant developments and featuring the latest statistics. The Center also produces groundbreaking reports on various issues related to the death penalty such as arbitrariness, costs, innocence, and race. We offer a wide variety of multimedia resources, such as our free, online educational curricula and our podcast series, DPIC on the Issues.

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