The number of known executions carried out globally rose by 53% in 2022, according to a new report published by Amnesty International.
There were 883 known cases of executions across 20 nations, but Amnesty said that three countries—Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt—were responsible for 90% of these capital punishments. While Amnesty cited China as the country where executions are most prolific, based on its analysis of available information, this data is classified as a state secret and therefore excluded from the report. The annual figure is believed to be in the thousands.
In terms of known executions, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt routinely top the list in Amnesty’s annual report. “These countries are prolific executioners, they feature in Amnesty’s top five countries with the highest number of executions yearly,” Oluwatosin Popoola, a legal advisor at Amnesty, tells TIME.
There are other Middle Eastern countries with known executions last year. Executions were recorded in Iraq (11), Kuwait (7), the Palestinian Territories (5), Yemen (4), and Syria, though the figure for the latter is unknown. While Tunisia and Libya in 2022 issued at least 26 and 18 death sentences, respectively, none had been carried out at the time of the report.
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“It’s quite unclear why there’s been this increase. But what is clear is that these [three] countries are continuing to order the use of the death penalty… [as] the world moves away from the use of the death penalty,” Popoola adds. He notes that when Amnesty started its global campaign to end the death penalty in 1977, only 16 countries had outlawed it, a figure that now stands at 112.
Among developed nations, the U.S. recorded 18 executions in 2022. In Europe, no executions were recorded with the exception of Belarus, a country often referred to as Europe’s last dictatorship.
Here’s what to know about the three countries which still account for most known executions around the globe.
Iran was the nation with the highest known executions last year. Of the total 576 instances of capital punishment, 279 people were sentenced for murder, 255 for drug-related offenses, 21 for rape, and 18 on charges of “enmity against God.” The latter charges include two men who were detained as a result of sweeping anti-government protests in the Islamic Republic last year.
“These increases were as a result of executions for murder and drug related offenses; recorded executions for murder had risen sharply by 75%, from 159 that were recorded in 2021 to 279,” Popoola says.
Saudi Arabia carried out three times as many known executions in 2022 as it did in 2021—the 196 figure is the highest number observed for the country by Amnesty in 30 years. The figures were also provided by Saudi Arabia’s human rights commission, suggesting a degree of transparency that countries such as Iran did not offer.
“In one single day alone, 81 people were executed by the Saudi authorities,” Popoola says, noting that many of the cases were related to terrorism offenses. Forty-one of these people belonged to the country’s Shia Muslim minority, including two people convicted of crimes related to their involvement in anti-government protests.
There was also a spike as a result of the resumption of executions for drug related offenses, Popoola adds, adding that in the previous year Saudi Arabia did not record any executions for drug-related offenses.
While Egypt ranks as the third highest recorded executioner, its 24 figure is a 71% drop compared to 2021, when 83 people were executed. But the nation imposed 538 death sentences in 2022, up from 356 in 2021, a sign that next year’s tally may increase.
Egypt was one of three African Union countries to carry out executions, along with Somalia and South Sudan, according to Amnesty’s report, which also noted that Egypt has in some cases imposed death sentences without defendants being present.
While the figures where executions are taking place amount to a five-year high, Popoola says that the reduction in countries carrying out executions allows them to remain hopeful. “Amnesty has never been this optimistic that the death penalty will one day be totally abolished in the world,” he says.