LONDON (Reuters) - At least 527 people were executed around the world last year, down from 714 in 2009, although China is believed to have put to death thousands more, human rights group Amnesty International said on Monday.
It said Beijing was thought to have executed far more people than the rest of the world combined. Amnesty’s tally does not include figures for China, which describes them as state secrets, the rights group said.
At least 23 countries carried out judicial executions in 2010, four more than the previous year, Amnesty said in its annual report on the death penalty, which it wants abolished.
China has scrapped the death penalty for 13 non-violent crimes including smuggling historic relics and tax fraud-related offenses, but capital punishment will still apply to 55 offences, Chinese news reports said last month.
“A number of countries continue to pass death sentences for drug-related offences, economic crimes, sexual relations between consenting adults and blasphemy, violating international human rights law forbidding the use of the death penalty except for the most serious crimes,” Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said in a statement.
Of the 527 executions recorded in 2010, at least 252 were carried out in Iran, at least 60 in North Korea, at least 53 in Yemen, 46 in the United States, at least 27 in Saudi Arabia, at least 18 in Libya and at least 17 in Syria, Amnesty said, noting that only a few countries published official figures.
Methods of execution used in 2010 included beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and shooting, it said.
At least 2,024 new death sentences were imposed in 67 countries in 2010 and at least 17,833 people were under sentence of death worldwide at the end of the year, the group said.
Some 8,000 prisoners remained on death row in Pakistan in 2010, despite Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s announcement in 2008 that all death sentences should be commuted to life imprisonment.
At the end of 2010, there were more than 3,200 people under sentence of death in the United States.
After 2009, a year in which, for the first time on record, no executions were recorded in Europe and the former Soviet Union, Belarus carried out two executions in 2010, it said.
The most death sentences last year, 365, were handed down in Pakistan, while at least 279 people were sentenced to death in Iraq, 185 in Egypt and at least 151 in Nigeria, it said.
Despite the increase in the number of countries carrying out executions last year, Amnesty International said there was a clear global trend toward abolition of the death penalty.
The number of countries that had abolished the death penalty in law or practice had risen to 139 from 108 in 2001, it said.
Gabon removed the death penalty from its legislation in 2010 and at the end of the year Lebanon, Mali, Mongolia and South Korea were considering proposals to abolish execution, it said.
Editing by Andrew Roche