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'Sharp spike' in global executions last year - new report

‘Killing sprees’ in Iran and Iraq fuelled 15% rise in executions during 2013

Report: Death sentences and executions in 2013

There was a "sharp spike" in the number of executions around the world last year - with almost 100 more people put to death in 2013 compared to the previous year - revealed Amnesty International, as it published its annual review of the death penalty worldwide.

Excluding china - where figures are a state secret - at least 778 executions were known to have been carried out in 2013, compared to 682 in 2012, a jump of 96 (or nearly 15%).

The figures - contained in a 62-page report Death Sentences and Executions in 2013 - show that the numbers of executions in Iran (at least 369) and Iraq (169) were significantly higher than in 2012, while Saudi Arabia (79), the USA (39) and Somalia (34) also saw large numbers of people executed through the year. In total, prisoners were executed in 22 countries in 2013, one more than in 2012, and Indonesia, Kuwait, Nigeria and Vietnam all resumed executions. 

Meanwhile, at least 1,927 people were known to have been sentenced to death in 57 countries in 2013, up from 1,722 death sentences in 58 countries in 2012. This means that the global figure for people on death row stood at a minimum of 23,394 by the end of last year. 

Methods of execution included beheading, electrocution, firing squad, hanging and lethal injection - with public executions taking place in Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. In addition to murder, individuals faced the death penalty for non-lethal crimes such as robbery, drugs offences, “collaboration with Israel” (in Gaza), and embezzlement. While people also faced execution for the supposed “offences” of “adultery”, “sodomy”, “blasphemy”, “pornography”, and watching banned videos from South Korea (in North Korea). Meanwhile, many countries used vaguely-worded political “crimes” to put real or perceived dissidents to death.

Amnesty’s report shows that there were executions in the following countries in 2013: China (several thousand suspected), Iran (369+), Iraq (169+), Saudi Arabia (79+), USA (39), Somalia (34+), Sudan (21+), Yemen (13+), Japan (8), Vietnam (7+), Taiwan (6), Indonesia (5), Kuwait (5), South Sudan (4+), Nigeria (4), Gaza (3+), Malaysia (2+), Afghanistan (2), Bangladesh (2), Botswana (1), India (1), North Korea (unknown number). The following methods of executions were used: beheading (Saudi Arabia), electrocution (USA), hanging (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Botswana, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Nigeria, Gaza, South Sudan, Sudan), lethal injection (China, Vietnam, USA), and shooting (China, Indonesia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Taiwan and Yemen).

However, many countries do not release official information on their use of capital punishment and several countries are thought to have executed many more than the minimum figures compiled by Amnesty (indicated with a “+” symbol).

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty said:

“The killing sprees we saw in countries like Iran and Iraq were shameful. 

“Only a small number of countries carried out the vast majority of these senseless state-sponsored killings.

“The long-term trend is clear - the death penalty is becoming a thing of the past. We urge all governments who still kill in the name of justice to impose a moratorium on the death penalty immediately, with a view to abolishing it.”

Long-term trend away from execution

Despite serious setbacks in 2013, there has been a decline in the number of countries using the death penalty over the last 20 years. Two decades ago, 37 countries carried out executions, compared to last year’s 22. Many countries who had carried out executions in 2012 did not implement death sentences last year - including Gambia, the UAE and Pakistan. Belarus also refrained from carrying out executions, meaning Europe and Central Asia were execution-free for the first time since 2009. 

Regional breakdowns

Middle East and North Africa

In Iran, though at least 369 executions were officially acknowledged by the authorities, credible sources pointed to many hundreds more taking place in secret, bringing the actual total to more than 700. In Iraq there was a stark rise in executions for the third year running, and the 169 executions was an increase of almost one-third on the previous year, with the vast majority of those killed convicted under vague anti-terrorism laws. Saudi Arabia’s 79 executions remained at the same high levels as the previous two years, though for the first time in three years Saudi Arabia executed three juvenile offenders, in breach of international law. There were some limited positive developments in the region - no-one was executed in the UAE for the first time in three years, and executions dropped in Yemen for the second year running.


During one late October weekend last year, the Iranian authorities carried out 20 executions, including of the Kurdish political prisoner Habibollah Golparipour. Golparipour had been arrested in 2009 and sentenced to death in a five-minute trial in 2010 for “enmity against God” (moharebeh) through his alleged cooperation with a banned armed group, the “Party For Free Life of Kurdistan”. His family was not notified of his execution beforehand, and after his execution the authorities reportedly refused to hand over his body. 


In Sub-Saharan Africa five countries carried out executions: Botswana, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan, with reported executions in Somalia jumping from six in 2012 to at least 34 last year. In Nigeria, four men were hanged in the country’s first executions in seven years, following statements from President Goodluck Jonathan which gave a green light to a resumption of executions in Nigeria. Meanwhile, across the region, several countries - including Benin, Ghana and Sierra Leone - took significant steps towards ending the death penalty, either through reviewing constitutions or proposing amendments to penal codes.


As in previous years, the USA was the only country in the Americas to carry out executions, although four fewer people (39) were put to death in 2013 compared to 2012. The state of Texas accounted for 41% of all executions. Meanwhile, Maryland became the 18th US state to abolish the death penalty. Three countries in the region - Grenada, Guatemala and Saint Lucia - reported empty death rows for the first time since Amnesty began keeping records in 1980.


Vietnam and Indonesia both resumed executions last year, with Indonesia using the death penalty for the first time in four years. As with other years, China continued to execute more people than the rest of the world put together, but with the death penalty treated as a state secret reliable data is impossible to obtain. There were limited signs of progress, with new legal protections introduced in death penalty cases and China’s Supreme Court announcing an end to the practice of organ harvesting from executed prisoners. No executions were reported in Singapore and several death row prisoners had their sentences commuted. 

Europe and Central Asia

For the first time since 2009, Europe and Central Asia was an execution-free zone. The only country still using the death penalty is Belarus, although it did not execute anyone in 2013.

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