Executions around the world rose to their highest number in five years in 2022, with Iran driving the spike, offsetting hopes raised by the abolition of capital punishment in six countries, among them Kazakhstan, according to Amnesty International.
In its annual report on the death penalty released on May 16, the rights group said that “disturbingly,” 90 percent of the world’s 883 confirmed executions outside China were carried out by just three of the 20 countries known to have carried out capital punishment last year.
All three were in the Middle East, led by Iran, which saw executions soar to 576 in 2022 — a year marked by massive nationwide protests in the country over deteriorating living conditions and the government’s suppression of basic human rights — from 314 the previous year.
Iran was followed by Saudi Arabia, where executions tripled from 65 in 2021 to 196 in 2022 — the highest recorded for that country by Amnesty in 30 years — while Egypt executed 24 individuals.
Amnesty said that given the opaque data from several countries that have the death penalty, figures on the use of capital punishment are minimum figures and “the true overall numbers are likely to be higher.”
As in previous years, Amnesty did not include executions in China in its figures, even though Beijing implements capital punishment more than any other country. It says that the true extent of the usage of the death penalty there is unclear because the data is considered a state secret. Nonetheless, the report said executions were believed to be in the thousands.
“Countries in the Middle East and North Africa region violated international law as they ramped up executions in 2022, revealing a callous disregard for human life,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general.
“The number of individuals deprived of their lives rose dramatically across the region; Saudi Arabia executed a staggering 81 people in a single day. Most recently, in a desperate attempt to end the popular uprising, Iran executed people simply for exercising their right to protest,” she added.
Iran has been wracked by unrest that have posed the greatest threat to the Islamic republic’s cleric leadership since the revolution that brought it to power in 1979.
Rights groups have accused Tehran of using executions to “instill fear” among the public to help quell protests that gained momentum following the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, who was in police custody for an alleged hijab violation when she died.
The Amnesty report noted that executions resumed in five countries last year, including Afghanistan, while the recorded number of people executed for drug-related offenses more than doubled in 2022 compared to 2021.
Drug-related executions are in violation of international human rights law, which states that executions should only be carried out for the “most serious crimes” — crimes that involve intentional killing.
“In a cruel twist, close to 40 percent of all known executions were for drug-related offenses. Importantly, it’s often those from disadvantaged backgrounds that are disproportionately affected by this callous punishment,” Callamard said.
“It’s time for governments and the UN to up the pressure on those responsible for these blatant human rights violations and ensure international safeguards are put in place,” she added.
Despite the jump in executions, Amnesty said it saw “a glimmer of hope” as six countries abolished the death penalty either fully or partially.
Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, and the Central African Republic abolished the death penalty for all crimes last year, while Equatorial Guinea and Zambia abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes only.
As of December 2022, 112 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes and nine countries had abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes only, Amnesty said.
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Kuwait, Myanmar, North Korea, State of Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, the United States, Vietnam, and Yemen all carried out executions in 2022, Amnesty said in the report.