China tops 2016 global executions: Amnesty

Chart excludes China. Source Amnesty International

The Amnesty report also said China's court database omitted mention of foreign nationals put to death for drug-related crimes, despite media reports of at least 11 cases previous year.

At least 1,032 people were executed past year, down from 1,634 in 2015, Amnesty said.

More than 90 per cent of the world's executions took place in five countries - China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.

The charity says in its annual report on the death penalty that while it is known that China puts large numbers of people to death, the exact number is not clear.

USA death penalty sentences fell to a historic low previous year and executions also dropped sharply, contributing to a global slump of over a third from 2015, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

China has faced longstanding pressure from the global community to curb its use of the death penalty, which reached a frenzy in 1983 with 24,000 executions after provincial courts were given powers to mete out capital punishment, according to Dui Hua.

"Over the past few years the risk of people being executed for crimes they did not commit has caused increasing alarm among the public in China", said the report.

"Yet even the late Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, perhaps the greatest executioner in human history, recognised the likelihood of mistakes when imposing the death penalty", Cohen noted.

"This is deliberately misleading", Secretary General of Amnesty International Salil Shetty said. In another case, the wrongful execution of an Inner Mongolian teenager in 1996 - 18-year-old Huugjilt - led to 27 officials being punished in February 2016.

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The US, for the first time since 2006, fell from its place in top five executors to seventh place behind Egypt. However, 2,832 people are still on death row in the USA.

Amnesty said the decrease in executions was due partly to litigation on lethal injection protocols and challenges in sourcing chemicals in several states.

Only five U.S. states executed people in 2016: Alabama (2), Florida (1), Georgia (9), Missouri (1), Texas (7), with Texas and Georgia, accounting for 80% of the country's executions in 2016.

The number of death sentences in the United States, at 32, was also the lowest since 1973. Meanwhile, 12 states, including Arkansas, yet to abolish the death penalty have not executed anyone for at least 10 years. "But there is a long-term trend against the death penalty in the U.S".

President Xi Jinping, who has proclaimed his ambition to reform China's judicial system by making it fairer and more transparent, should turn his words into action and lift the cloak of secrecy that surrounds judicial executions. Amnesty reported a surge in executions in 2015 but said the reasons were unclear.

"The steady decline in the use of the death penalty in the US is a sign of hope for activists who have long campaigned for an end to capital punishment".

A 2007 decision that all verdicts involving capital punishment must be reviewed and approved by the supreme people's court is believed to have significantly reduced the number of executions. Belarus and Kazakhstan are the only two countries in the region to use the death penalty.

Beijing has tried to make the use of the death penalty rarer, reducing the number of crimes in which it is applicable from 55 to 46 in 2015. Public executions were carried out in Iran (at least 33) and North Korea.

The ultimate sanction is typically applied for murder, rape, robbery and drug offences, and in 2011, the courts were told to stop giving the death sentence for crimes such as smuggling cultural relics and rare animals and other non-violent crimes, although drug trafficking remains a capital offence.

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