China is believed to have executed more people than the rest of the world combined in 2016, as the number of death penalties across the globe fell by 37 percent overall.
- The number of executions globally fell by 37 per cent in 2016
- The fall was driven largely by fewer executions in Iran and Pakistan
- China is the world’s largest executioner while the USA fell from the top five
An Amnesty International report found there were 1,032 state-sponsored executions worldwide in 2016 — 602 fewer than in 2015.
However Amnesty’s annual tally excludes China, where the true number of people sentenced to death is a state secret but is thought to be “in the thousands”.
Human rights group Dui Hua estimates China conducted about 2,000 executions last year, down from 6,500 a decade ago.
The group’s executive director, John Kamm, said the number was based on research into lower-level court cases and contacts with government officials, and Chinese and Western legal scholars.
Why global executions fell last year
Amnesty said a fall in the number of executions worldwide was largely driven by fewer deaths recorded in Iran and Pakistan.
The United States recorded 20 executions — its fewest in 25 years — in part because of court rulings and shortages of chemicals used in lethal injections.
It was the first time in five years the US has not been among the world’s top five executioners — China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan in 2016. Together these five countries accounted for 90 per cent of all executions worldwide.
“If we look at the top five around the world, we know that China is the standout one, so this is the one that executes by the thousands,” Amnesty International’s Rose Kulak told the ABC’s PM program.
“The next one down that we know the figures for is Iran, which is a bit over 500 people have been executed.
“Then we have Saudi Arabia, which is about 150, then we have Iraq and Pakistan, with about 80 each.”
Ms Kulak said Pakistan was the “outstanding country” in our region, in terms of rates of executions and the number of people on death row. They have over 8,000 people on death row.
“When we’re talking about a global figure of 19,000 that’s over a third of the world’s death-row inmates are in Pakistan alone.”
China’s ‘frenzy’ of executions
China has faced longstanding pressure from the international community to curb its use of the death penalty, which reached a frenzy in 1983 with 24,000 executions.
This came after provincial courts were given powers to mete out capital punishment, according to Dui Hua.
Oversight of death-sentence cases was returned to China’s highest court, the Supreme People’s Court, in 2007.
Since that time, the Government has narrowed which crimes can bring capital punishment but still lists more than three dozen eligible offenses — including treason, separatism, spying, arson, murder, rape, robbery and human trafficking.
Government officials did not immediately comment on Amnesty’s report, however China’s chief justice, Zhou Qiang, told the national legislature last month that over the past decade executions were limited to “an extremely small number of criminals for extremely serious offences”.
Chinese legal scholar Hong Daode said 90 per cent of executions last year were for homicide cases.
“There has been a long tradition in China that the one that has taken people’s lives should pay with his own life,” said Mr Hong, a professor of criminal law at China University of Political Science and Law.