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China No.1 for death penalty in 2015 as executions surge 54% worldwide – Amnesty report

China remains the top executioner in the world, Amnesty International said in a new report on the death penalty published on Wednesday.

The human rights NGO said that China executed thousands of people in 2015. Iran came second with more than 977 executions, while Pakistan ranked third with 328.

Excluding China, a total of at least 1,634 executions occurred in 2015 – a surge of 54 percent from 2014, when at least 1,061 were executed. The number of executions was the highest in more than 25 years, Amnesty said. Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia were named as the biggest offenders behind the increase. However, for the first time, more than 50 percent of countries were opposed to the death penalty.

Number of executions Amnesty International

More than 1,634 were executed in 2015. Photo: Amnesty International.

The organisation said that accurate numbers for China were unavailable because “the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is considered a state secret.”

However, it said that the true number was in the thousands, for both the number of executions and for those sentenced to death. While the NGO said that it did not receive reports for the number of executions in the Xinjiang region in 2015, it stated that at least three persons from the Uighur minority were executed on March 24, 2015 in Yunnan province for acts of terror.

Torture and ill-treatment 

While China removed nine crimes from being punishable by death in 2015, Amnesty said that they were already rarely punished by death. The nine crimes included “smuggling weapons, ammunition, nuclear materials or counterfeit currency; counterfeiting currency; fraudulent fundraising; organising or forced prostitution; obstruction of military duties; and fabrication of rumours.”

Forty-six crimes that attract the death penalty remain on the books, including economic crimes and drug-related crimes, which “do not qualify as being punishable by death under international law,” the report said.

china court

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Amnesty also named China as one of the countries that did not give fair trials to those later sentenced to death. “In some cases this included the extraction of ‘confessions’ through torture or other ill-treatment,” it said.

Hopeful trends

There were hopes that long term trends would prevail, with four countries – Madagascar, Fiji, Suriname, and the Republic of Congo – scrapping their death penalty laws in 2015.

Geographical ranking executions Amnesty International

Geographical ranking of countries performing the most executions. China tops the list with an expected number of executions in the thousands. Photo: Amnesty International screenshot.

In 2015, there were also a total of 51 exonerations recorded by the NGO. China exonerated one person who was sentenced to death while Nigeria exonerated 41, the highest out of all countries.

“2015 was a year of extremes. We saw some very disquieting developments but also developments that give cause for hope,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“Whatever the short-term setbacks, the long-term trend is still clear: the world is moving away from death penalty. Those countries that still execute need to realise that they are on the wrong side of history and abolish the ultimate cruel and inhuman form of punishment,” he said.

China No.1 for death penalty in 2015 as executions surge 54% worldwide - Amnesty report