The number of executions worldwide dropped by 37 percent in 2016 compared to the year before, mainly because Iran hanged fewer people, Amnesty International said in its 2016 global review of the death penalty published on Tuesday.
China executed more people than all other countries in the world put together, Amnesty said.
“China wants to be a leader on the world stage, but when it comes to the death penalty it is leading in the worst possible way – executing more people annually than any other country in the world,” said Salil Shetty, secretary-general of Amnesty International.
“The Chinese government has recognised it is a laggard in terms of openness and judicial transparency, but it persists in actively concealing the true scale of executions. It is high time for China to lift the veil on this deadly secret and finally come clean about its death penalty system.”
The vast majority of those executions – 856 – were carried out in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Historic low in US
Meanwhile, the US reached a historic low in its use of the death penalty in 2016.
Another 2,832 people are still on death row in the US.
Amnesty said the decrease in executions was due partly to litigation on lethal injection protocols and challenges in sourcing chemicals in several states.
The group added that the possible resolution of some lethal injection challenges could see the level of executions start to take off again in 2017 – including in the state of Arkansas, the governor scheduled eight executions during a 10-day period this April.
That increase came as President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi cracked down on political rivals, including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Amnesty said “Egypt has witnessed an unprecedented increase in mass death sentences after unfair trials”.
“Many MENA states justify their use of the death penalty by claiming that they are acting to counter grave security threats, despite there being no evidence that the death penalty deters violent crime,” said James Lynch, head of the death penalty team at Amnesty International.