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The year 2020 was difficult for people around the world, with the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But that wasn’t enough to deter some countries from hammering down and handing out death penalties for crimes. 

In fact, according to Amnesty International’s annual global review of the death penalty, some countries increased their rate of executions, despite global executions decreasing elsewhere.


But which countries had the most executions in 2020?


Let’s begin with the worst culprits.

Iran, Egypt and China had the highest number of executions in 2020

In Iran, at least 23 people were sentenced to death in 2020 in cases relating to political violence.(Reuters: Tobias Schwarz)

Number one on the list was Iran, which according to Amnesty International figures executed more than 246 people in 2020.

Of those executed, at least 23 had been sentenced to death in 2020 in cases relating to political violence.

The human rights organisation said many of the trials were unfair and based on forced “confessions” and serious human rights violations, including torture and enforced disappearances.

Egypt came in second with more than 107 executions in 2020 — which is triple its yearly execution figures from the year before.

Iran, Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia accounted for 88 per cent of all known executions in 2020, according to the report. 

Officially, China executed at least one person last year, amid its crackdown on criminal acts to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

China classifies the total number of its executions and death sentences as a state secret. Therefore, Amnesty International’s figures for all known executions do not include executions in China.

However, the human rights organisation said China was believed to have executed thousands of people each year, making it one of the world’s most prolific executioners.

Meanwhile, the US was the only country in the Americas to carry out executions in 2020.

The Trump administration resumed federal executions after a 17-year hiatus and put 10 men to death in less than six months in 2020.

India, Oman, Qatar and Taiwan also resumed executions.

Asia-Pacific region continues to violate international law

International law and standards prohibited the use of the death penalty for crimes that did not involve intentional killing, Amnesty said.

Yet many countries in the Asia-Pacific region had violated this law and continued to hand down the death penalty for other offences.

For example, in China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia Singapore and Sri Lanka, the death penalty had been handed out for drug offences.

In Pakistan, it was handed down for blasphemy.

In the Maldives, five people who were below 18 years of age at the time of the crime remained under sentence of death, the report showed.

Amnesty International said the pandemic restrictions made it harder to access legal counsel and a fair trial in several countries.

Amnesty International secretary-general Agnes Callamard said the death penalty was an “abhorrent punishment” and the use of the death penalty under pandemic conditions was a “particularly egregious assault on human rights”.

Push to halt executions worldwide

Many counries in the Asia Pacific region have continued to hand down the death penalty.(Peter Parks: AFP)

While some countries increased executions, there was an overall trend of decline amid the pandemic in 2020.

Globally, at least 483 people were known to have been executed in 2020, marking the lowest number of executions recorded by Amnesty International in at least a decade.

It represents a decrease of 26 per cent compared to 2019, and 70 per cent from the high-peak of 1,634 executions in 2015.

Recorded executions in Saudi Arabia dropped by 85 per cent, from 184 in 2019 to 27 in 2020, and more than halved in Iraq, from 100 in 2019 to 45 in 2020.

No executions were recorded in Bahrain, Belarus, Japan, Pakistan, Singapore and Sudan — countries that carried out executions in 2019. 

The number of death sentences known to have been imposed worldwide was also down by 36 per cent compared to 2019.

Despite the overall decrease, Amnesty International isn’t stopping its strong push to abolish the death penalty altogether. 

As of this month, 108 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and 144 countries have abolished it in law or practice, according to the organisation.

And they’re urging more countries to follow suit. 

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