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Source: NY Times

May 16, 2023

Global Executions Highest in 5 Years, Amnesty International Says

Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia carried out 90 percent of the executions recorded last year, the rights group said. The numbers did not include estimates of “thousands” in China, it said, citing a lack of transparency.

By Cora Engelbrecht

Executions around the world rose to the highest number recorded in five years in 2022, even as more countries moved to outlaw the death penalty, according to an annual report by Amnesty International released on Tuesday.

At least 883 executions were recorded globally last year, a 53-percent increase over 579 deaths in 2021.

Those numbers did not include China, which Amnesty said it believed had executed and sentenced to death “thousands” of people, because of a lack of transparency that made it difficult for the human rights group to make an accurate assessment.

About 90 percent of the executions recorded in 2022 were carried out by three of the world’s leading executioners, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the report said.

Amnesty International’s secretary general, Agnès Callamard, said the trend of increasing executions demonstrated a “callous disregard for human life” among governments in the Middle East and North Africa, in particular. Executions in that region increased by 59 percent, Amnesty said.

In Iran and Saudi Arabia, many executions were for nonlethal crimes, like drug-related offenses, which is in violation of international law. Of the three countries, Egypt was the only one that recorded a decline in executions — 24 people in 2022 from at least 83 the year before.

Executions in Saudi Arabia tripled to 196 people — the highest number Amnesty recorded in the country in 30 years — and included 81 people whom the government put to death in one day in 2022.

The rise in executions coincided with a crackdown on dissent in the authoritarian kingdom.

A report released in January by Reprieve, a human rights organization, and the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, found that executions in Saudi Arabia had increased by 82 percent since King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his son, came to power in 2015.

“Like many other countries, Saudi Arabia includes the death penalty as a form of punitive justice for the most egregious crimes,” the Saudi government said in a statement to The New York Times in response to the January report.

It added that the government had enacted significant “reforms to the penal code” and that capital punishment was only used “after a lengthy series of safeguards are applied, usually lasting several years.”

Executions in Iran increased by 83 percent to 576 in 2022, according to the Amnesty report, which said the deaths included at least five people who were convicted of crimes they committed as minors.

Two men, both 23, Majid Reza Rahnavard and Mohsen Shekari, were hanged in December after they were charged with “moharebe,” a broad term that means waging a war on God, in connection with the large uprisings led by women and girls that embroiled the nation last year.

The Amnesty report comes as executions have surged over the past five months in Iran. At least 209 people have been put to death since January, according to the United Nations.

“On average so far this year, over 10 people are put to death each week in Iran, making it one of the world’s highest executors,” the United Nations’ human rights chief, Volker Türk, said in a statement this month.

"The numbers are appalling,” said Sanam Vakil, the director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, a research organization in Britain.

She said that the executions, especially of young people, were “intended to send a very clear and stark message that dissent is not going to be tolerated.”The Amnesty report also noted significant increases in executions in Kuwait, Myanmar and the Gaza Strip.

But the global rise was countered by more signs that governments around the world were increasingly moving away from the death penalty. Four countries, the Central African Republic, Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone, abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

For the 14th consecutive year, the United States was the only country to execute people in the Americas, with 18 executions — the fewest by the nation since 1991. New death sentences and public support for the death penalty also remained at their lowest levels in decades, according to a report by the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit group that opposes capital punishment.

Vivian Nereim contributed reporting.

Cora Engelbrecht is a reporter and story editor on the International desk, based in London. She joined The Times in 2016.  More about Cora Engelbrecht

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