China named 'world's lead executioner' as global rate declines


Amnesty International's latest report shows executions have declined around the world, but China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan still carry out a high number.

China remains the "world's lead executioner" amid a worldwide drop in executions, according to a new Amnesty International report. 

The human rights group reported China implemented “more death sentences than the rest of the world combined”, but did not provide a figure because executions are considered a state secret in the Asian country. The death toll could be in the thousands, according to Amnesty. 

The report also found that Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan are responsible for carrying out 85 per cent of all reported executions worldwide.

The figures, contained in Death Sentences and Executions in 2017 released on Thursday, show the Middle East and North Africa account for 847 of 933 reported death penalties.

Iran: Death sentences for drug offences 

More than half of the world’s executions were recorded in Iran, with more than 500 deaths last year.

Despite an 11 per cent drop on 2016, the Middle Eastern country is still sanctioning state killings, with at least 31 of these being carried out in public, the report says.

Although Tehran was praised for taking steps last year to reduce the death sentence for drug offences, still 40 per cent of the executions were drug-related.

Amy Maguire, a senior lecturer in human right laws at Newcastle University, told SBS News countries with high execution numbers are often tied to a willingness to execute people for nonviolent crimes.

“A willingness to execute for drug crimes is really problematic,” she said.

“Drug crimes would be considered as nonviolent and the international community demands at the very least that the death penalty not be imposed for nonviolent crimes.”

A public execution in the northern city of Nour, Iran.
A public execution in the northern city of Nour, Iran.
Iranian Students News Agency, ISNA/AAP

The report also said Iran had executed at least five people who were under 18 when their crimes were committed.

“That is absolutely prohibited under international law,” Dr Maguire said.

Thousands of executions happening in China

Amnesty reports thousands of people are executed in China, where figures are a state secret. 

Dr Maguire said there are around 40 crimes still punishable by death in China.

“They range from high profile crimes like murder or terrorist charges, through to crimes like espionage and treason,” she said.

“People have been known to have been executed for passing state secrets.”

Dr Maguire said China will not reveal any information on this issue, and expects executions in the country to continue to take place at high rates.

A protester is wrapped up with a rope made into a noose during a protest in Hong Kong.
A protester is wrapped up with a rope made into a noose during a protest in Hong Kong.

Positive global trend

China aside, executions worldwide dropped from 1,032 in 2016 to 993 last year - a decline of four per cent.

Rose Kulak, a death penalty campaigner at Amnesty International Australia, told SBS News more countries are abolishing executions and death penalties.

“When we look back 40 years ago when Amnesty International first started campaigning against the death penalty, there were only 16 countries that had abolished it. We’re up to 106 countries now," she said.

Mongolia was the second country last year to abolish capital punishment, bringing that number to 106.

Ms Kulak said a further 36 countries have abolished the death penalty in “law or practice” meaning while they have not officially scrapped the penalty, they are not performing any executions.

Australia urged to step up

As the third anniversary of the execution of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran approaches, the federal government is being urged to ramp up pressure on Asia-Pacific nations still using the death penalty.

Two paintings by Myuran Sukumaran - on the left, Andrew Chan, on the right, a self-portrait.
Two paintings by Myuran Sukumaran - on the left, Andrew Chan, on the right, a self-portrait.

Despite some improvements, Ms Kulak said the government must step up to its pledge to use its UN Human Rights Council seat to push for abolition.

"Australia needs to be focusing on what’s going on around our region and continue to push for change," Ms Kulak said.

She called on the government to release its death penalty strategy.

"We have reached the tipping point: most countries won’t have a bar of this horrendous form of punishment, and those countries still executing are increasingly isolated,” she said.

The report found 93 people were executed throughout the Asia-Pacific region last year, a 28 per cent decline from 2016.

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