Global executions fall 37% since 2015, Amnesty International says

They do not include China, where executions are said to run to thousands annually.

Amnesty broke down the convictions behind the death sentence in Saudi Arabia: 81 for murder, 47 for "terrorism", 24 for drug-related offences, one for kidnapping and torture, and one for rape. This, it said, violated global law.

Two countries, Benin and Nauru abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes.

Salil Shetty, secretary-general of Amnesty International, said: "The steady decline in the use of the death penalty in the United States of America is a sign of hope for activists who have long campaigned for an end to capital punishment".

"By handing down more death sentences a year ago than any other country except China, Nigeria has tripled its use of this cruel and inhuman punishment and skyrocketed up the shameful league table of the world's death penalty offenders", said Damian Ugwu, AI's Nigeria researcher. There is some uncertainty around the exact figures because in China death penalty data is considered a state secret.

The report on 2016 revealed that most of the executions took place in China, Iran and Saudi Arabia respectively.

Furthermore, death sentences observed a significant increase.

The analysis found executions in the United States fell to the lowest level in a quarter of a century, with 20 recorded past year. Still, 2016 marked the eighth consecutive year in which the country was unique in the Americas for executing prisoners.

He added that Amnesty is calling on China to "come clean" and show the world how many people it is executing and sentencing to death each year. The American human rights group Dui Hua has put the number of executions in China in 2016 at around 2,000, based on court research and contacts with government officials and legal scholars.

Amnesty raised concerns Britain may be "toning down" criticism of countries that use the death penalty as it pursues trade deals and enters into new security arrangements.

Some 1,032 people were executed in 23 countries in 2016, after a record 1,634 people were put to death in 2015.

But Amnesty cautioned that the drop in the USA can partly be attributed to legal challenges over the way lethal injections are carried out, and that when those cases are resolved there could be a jump in the number of people put to death.

However, reports indicated that at least two people who were under 18 at the time of the crime for which they were sentenced to death were executed in Iran previous year.

The human rights group Dui Hua estimates about 2,000 executions took place in China previous year, down from a 6,500 a decade ago, said the group's executive director, John Kamm.

Amnesty noted that lawyers for the defendants claimed that vital evidence was omitted during their trials. "The government should continue to make public information on the death penalty while it is still in use", she said.

The Amnesty report found that 1,032 people were executed outside China past year, and that four countries - Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan - were responsible for 87% of those executions. The increase was mainly led by spikes in 12 countries including Bangladesh, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

  • Jon Douglas