How many countries still have the death penalty, and how many people are executed?


A protestor holds an Amnesty International sign reading "No to death penalty"

A convicted murderer in the US has become the first person in the country to be executed using nitrogen gas.

A Japanese man has also been sentenced to death by hanging for an arson attack which killed 36 people.

The number of executions is rising globally, despite many countries abolishing the use of capital punishment.

How many countries use the death penalty?

According to the latest figures from Amnesty International, in 2022:

  • 55 countries had the death penalty
  • Nine of these countries had the death penalty only for the most serious crimes, such as multiple killing or war crimes
  • 23 had the death penalty, but had not used it for 10 years

How many people are executed every year?

The Amnesty International figures are compiled from official statistics, media reports and information passed on from individuals sentenced to death, and their families and representatives.

The organisation believes that China is the world’s leading executioner, killing thousands of people every year. But because China does not release details about its use of the death penalty, it is impossible to provide reliable numbers.

Besides China, Amnesty International recorded 883 executions worldwide in 2022, the highest number of executions since 2017.

However, it is much lower than the figures for 1988, 1989 or 2015, when more than 1,500 people were executed in a single year.

The number of executions worldwide between 1985 and 2022 (May 2023)

Amnesty International also says at least 2,016 death sentences were imposed in 2022, across 52 countries.

Globally, it believes at least 28,282 people were under sentence of death at the end of 2022.

Many prisoners spend years or even decades on death row before their execution.

Which countries use the death penalty the most?

Twenty countries executed people in 2022, compared with 18 in 2021.

Apart from China, the countries which executed the most people were Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the US.

The countries with the highest number of executions in 2022 (May 2023)

Amnesty says it recorded at least three public executions in Iran in 2022.

It says Iran also executed at least five people for offences carried out when they were under 18 years old.

How has the number of executions carried out in different countries changed?

The Amnesty International report highlights 11 countries in the world which persistently execute people every year.

These include China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the US, Vietnam and Yemen.

Amnesty International also believes that North Korea is “likely to be using the death penalty at a sustained rate”, but cannot independently verify this.

Map showing the countries which Amnesty International says regularly executed people between 2018 and 2022 (January 2024)

Saudi Arabia’s execution figure in 2022 was the highest for 30 years.

Five countries – Bahrain, Comoros, Laos, Niger and South Korea – sentenced people to death in 2022, having not used the death penalty for several years.

Although the number of executions in the US has risen since 2021, it remains well below the 1999 peak.

Chart showing the number of executions in the US since 1983 (January 2024)

How many people are executed for drug offences?

Amnesty International says there were 325 executions for drug offences worldwide in 2022 including:

  • 255 in Iran
  • 57 in Saudi Arabia
  • 11 in Singapore

In 2023, Singapore executed the first woman for almost 20 years. Saridewi Djaman was convicted of trafficking heroin in 2018.

How many countries have abolished the death penalty?

The death penalty is not used at all in 112 countries, compared with 48 in 1991.

Six countries abolished the death penalty either fully, or partially, in 2022.

Four – Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic – scrapped it completely.

Equatorial Guinea and Zambia said it would only be used for the most serious crimes.

In April 2023, Malaysia’s parliament also voted to remove the mandatory death penalty for 11 serious crimes, including murder and terrorism.

Ghana’s parliament voted to abolish the death penalty altogether in July 2023.

How do countries around the world carry out the death penalty?

Saudi Arabia was the only country to list beheading as the method of execution in 2022.

Other methods included hanging, lethal injection and death by shooting.

A lethal injection room in the US

The US state of Alabama is due to execute a convicted murderer called Kenneth Smith using nitrogen gas.

He will be the first person to be put to death by this method anywhere in the world, according to the US-based Death Penalty Information Center.

Mr Smith’s lawyers called the untested method a “cruel and unusual” punishment.

Alabama and two other US states approved the use of nitrogen because the drugs which are more commonly used in lethal injections have become more difficult to find.

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