China remained the world’s top executioner in 2016 while Vietnam has joined the top five executing countries, according to Amnesty International.

The organization says at least 1,032 people were executed in 23 countries in 2016. That is a significant drop from the 1,634 executions recorded in 25 countries last year. There is some uncertainty around the exact figures because in China death penalty data is considered a state secret.

“Irrespective of the number of recorded cases, Amnesty’s research and analysis continues to show that China consistently carries out more executions each year than any other country in the world – killing thousands of people annually,” the organization says in a new report.

Source: Amnesty International

“The total of 701 approved death sentences found in the China Judgements Online database over 28 China’s Deadly Secrets Amnesty International nearly a six-year period - between 2011 to 2016 - cannot possibly represent the true scope of the use of the death penalty in China during this time frame. As noted above, credible estimates by international NGOs and domestic scholars have consistently stated that the number of death sentences and executions in China each year are both in the thousands – meaning that 701 death sentences over a five-year period is far too small.” - Amnesty International

Amnesty International’s analysis of judgments shows the majority of people who were sentenced to death in China had relatively low levels of education, often unemployed or classified as "rural people/farmers."


Source: Amnesty International

The death penalty approval cases from the China Judgements Online database shows that there were only a handful of offenses that were frequently used in sentencing individuals to death. This appears to be in line with findings of previous studies carried out by Chinese scholars that show that only a handful of crimes constitute the majority of death sentences in practice.


Credit: Amnesty International

In 2016, excluding China, almost 90 percent of all executions took place in four countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.

Source: Amnesty International

Amnesty International says new data from Vietnam showed that it was one of the world’s biggest executioners, executing 429 prisoners between August 6, 2013, and June 30, 2016.

“Only China and Iran executed more people during that period,” the organization says.

Source: Amnesty Int


Longer-term, there continues to be a trend towards an increase in countries abolishing the death penalty and a decrease in countries carrying out executions.

Source: Amnesty International

Source: Amnesty International

Still, while more than two-thirds of countries worldwide are abolitionist in law or in practice, there were more than 18,000 people on death row as of the end of 2016. Beheading, hanging, lethal injections and shooting were used as methods of execution. Public executions were carried out in Iran and North Korea. Moreover, the Philippines and the Maldives are moving towards the reintroduction of capital punishment.

Editor: Olivia Yang