An alarming number of countries used the death penalty to tackle real or perceived threats to state security linked to terrorism, crime or internal instability in 2014, Amnesty International found in its annual review of the death penalty worldwide.
The number of death sentences recorded in 2014 jumped by almost 500 compared to 2013, mainly because of sharp spikes in Egypt and Nigeria, including mass sentencing in both countries in the context of internal conflict and political instability.
The USA continued to be the only country to put people to death in the region, although executions dropped from 39 in 2013 to 35 in 2014 – reflecting a steady decline in the use of the death penalty in the country over the past years. Only seven states executed in 2014 (down from nine in 2013) with four - Texas, Missouri, Florida and Oklahoma –responsible for 89 per cent of all executions. The state of Washington imposed a moratorium on executions in February. The overall number of death sentences decreased from 95 in 2013 to 77 in 2014.
But there was also good news to be found in 2014 - fewer executions were recorded compared to the year before and several countries took positive steps towards abolition of the death penalty.
China again carried out more executions than the rest of the world put together. Amnesty International believes thousands are executed and sentenced to death there every year, but with numbers kept a state secret the true figure is impossible to determine.
The other countries making up the world’s top five executioners in 2014 were Iran (289 officially announced and at least 454 more that were not acknowledged by the authorities), Saudi Arabia (at least 90), Iraq (at least 61) and the USA (35).
Excluding China, at least 607 executions were known to have been carried out in 2014, compared to 778 in 2013, a drop of more than 20 per cent.
Executions were recorded in 22 countries in 2014, the same number as the year before. This is a significant decrease from 20 years ago in 1995, when Amnesty International recorded executions in 42 countries, highlighting the clear global trend of states moving away from the death penalty.
The disturbing trend of states using the death penalty to combat threats against state security was visible around the world, with China, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq all executing people accused of “terrorism."
Pakistan resumed executions in the wake of the horrific Taliban attack on a Peshawar school. Seven people were executed in December, and the government has said it will put hundreds more convicted on “terrorism”-related charges to death. Executions continued at a high rate in 2015.
In China authorities made use of the death penalty as a punitive tool in the “Strike Hard” campaign against unrest in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Authorities executed at least 21 people during the year related to separate attacks, while three people were condemned to death in a mass sentencing rally conducted in a stadium in front of thousands of spectators.
In countries including North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia, governments continued to use the death penalty as a tool to suppress political dissent.
Other states made use of executions in similarly flawed attempts to tackle crimes rates. Jordan ended an eight-year moratorium in December, putting eleven murder convicts to death, with the government saying it was a move to end a surge in violent crime. In Indonesia, the government announced plans to execute mainly drug traffickers to tackle a public safety “national emergency” – promises it made good on in 2015.
Spike in death sentences
There was a dramatic rise in the number of death sentences recorded in 2014 compared to the previous year – at least 2,466 compared to 1,925 - a jump of more than a quarter. This was largely due to developments in Nigeria and Egypt, where hundreds of people were sentenced to death.