Apart from China and despite a worldwide drop in death sentences, countries in the Middle East remained among the world’s leading executioners last year, Amnesty International said yesterday.
The number of executions worldwide plummeted to its lowest level in more than a decade, with at least 483 people executed last year, compared with 657 in 2019, as the COVID-19 pandemic slowed criminal trials and disrupted scheduled executions.
Four states in the region — Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia — topped the global list and pressed on with shootings, beheadings and hangings, ignoring pleas by rights groups to halt executions during the pandemic, the report said.
Photo: Iraqi Ministry of Justice via AP
Although counts in the nations fell in line with global trends, largely due to Saudi Arabian legal reforms, the countries carried out 88 percent of the world’s total known executions last year, said the London-based rights group, which campaigns for abolition of the death penalty.
The numbers show that the region is “truly out of sync with the rest of the world,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The Middle East stands out as a region that clings to the use of the death penalty after deeply unfair trials.”
Egypt executed more than three times as many condemned prisoners last year than it did the year before, overtaking Saudi Arabia as the world’s third-most prodigious executioner, the report said.
Although Iraq more than halved the number of people it put to death last year compared with 2019, primarily because of virus-induced court closures, the government faces international criticism for carrying out mass executions.
Iraqi courts have grappled with thousands of detainees suspected of being Islamic State group fighters or supporters, following the group’s defeat on the battlefield in 2017.
On a single day in November last year, 21 prisoners held on terrorism-related charges were hanged.
The region’s 25 percent decline in executions was driven by Saudi Arabia, long one of the world’s most prolific executioners.
In a dramatic shift, the Saudi government scaled back its executions last year by 85 percent.
The kingdom attributed the drop to legal reforms promoted by the country’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. New directives halted executions for drug offenses and abolished the death penalty for minors.
Amnesty’s annual country-to-country figures exclude China, where figures, believed to be in the thousands, are classified as a state secret.
The report also omits executions from some countries marred by conflict, such as Syria, which Morayef called “one of the big black boxes.”
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