Every year, all over the world, thousands of people are put to death after being convicted of various crimes. The death penalty is a divisive subject. There are many people who feel it is a necessary act. To them, by putting an individual to death it serves as retribution, provides closure, removes a dangerous criminal from society and/or sets an example and warning to others who might commit similar crimes. Those opposed argue that the death penalty is inhumane, morally wrong, is more about revenge than retribution and ultimately serves no real deterrent to others who might commit a similar act. Those opposed to the death penalty and subsequent executions point to the fact that countries who put murderers, terrorists and drug traffickers to death continue to face these crimes even after carrying out dozens or hundreds of executions.
Executing those handed a death sentence is nothing new. Since the beginning of recorded history, there have been numerous examples of death sentences and executions across a range of societies and tribes. Executions became a method of punishing crime and suppressing dissent among the population. Executions could and often were carried out in a number of ways depending on culture, laws and beliefs. Some, but not all, ancient methods included boiling and burning alive, flaying, quartering, disembowelment, crucifixion, crushing, and stoning. More recently, those countries which continue to use the death penalty have settled on a few standard forms of execution which include hanging, lethal injection and firing squad.
The following looks at the 10 countries around the world which commit the most executions. Figures are for 2014 and mainly based on those provided by Amnesty International, an organization which tracks law and human rights issues, including executions. As you’ll see, in the majority of examples, precise figures are often impossible to come by. This is usually because the state keeps the executions secret or upheaval and instability make tracking the figures very difficult. In these instances only those confirmed or the most conservative of figures have been used. Just keep in mind that the ‘+’ means the figure of those executed is likely far higher.
Honorable (Dishonorable) Mention: North Korea – ?
It’s very difficult for people outside of North Korea to get concrete information concerning the day-to-day events that occur in the secretive and authoritarian state. North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, appears to have not only stepped right into his father’s shoes but taken things to a new level when it comes to ruling the isolated nation through fear and intimidation. Since coming to power, various intelligence agencies have estimated that Kim is executing, on average, one top political or military leader a week. Recently, stories have emerged of executions carried out using anti-aircraft guns. To put it bluntly, if Kim is willing to arrest and execute his own uncle, then one can only imagine what’s in store for the regular North Korean citizen who steps out of line.
10. Jordan – 11 Executions Per Year
Up until last year, Jordan had instituted an eight year-long moratorium on executions. Then, in December 2014, the country executed 11 men who had been convicted of murder in 2005 and 2006. All of the men were hanged, which is the current method of execution for the Middle-East country. While murder is cited as the main reason for death sentences and executions, terrorism related charges can, and have, led to other executions in the country. It is believed that Jordan began carrying out death penalties in 2014 in response to criticism from the general public who believed the rise in crime was directly related to the moratorium on executions.
9. Somalia – 14+ Executions Per Year
Somalia is currently the only African country which practices public executions of those sentenced to death. The land of pirates and considerable instability, you might expect the number of executions to be higher than 14. Given the often chaotic situation and lack of order inside Somalia at times, the actual number of executions is hard to come by. That said, Amnesty International can confirm at least 14 but odds are the number is far higher. The two biggest crimes that will get you executed in Somalia are murder and adultery. Sentences are carried out by hanging, firing squad or, in special circumstances, stoning.
8. Egypt – 15+ Executions Per Year
Last year, Egypt executed a confirmed 15 people. Given the mass trials and recent conviction of nearly 700 people linked to ousted president Mohamed Morsi, this number will likely rise dramatically for 2015. Under Egyptian law, the death penalty is reserved for those who commit acts of murder, rape, terrorism or drug related offenses. Traditional and ancient methods of execution usually included beheading and drowning in the Nile but these were eventually replaced. For civilians, hanging is used as the main method of execution while military personnel sentenced to death face the firing squad.
T-6. Sudan – 23+ Executions Per Year
In terms of African nations, Sudan led the way in executions in 2014. Poor and facing internal conflict and religious divides, it is unsurprising that we should find Sudan placed where it is. In all likelihood, the official number of executions is much higher than the acknowledged 23. The death penalty can be handed down for the usual charges of murder, treason and terrorism related offenses. Weapons smuggling, armed robbery and prostitution can also carry the sentence. The preferred method of execution is by hanging or potentially by the same method with which the convicted committed the crime. Stoning is also used and involves burying the convicted up to their chest and binding their hands together.
T-6. Yemen – 23+ Executions Per Year
Tied with Sudan for sixth place on our list is Yemen. The small Middle-East country executed at least 23 people last year. While stoning is mentioned as a possible form of execution, in practice it is far more common to use shooting. Potential acts that can get you shot include murder, terrorism, treason and drug trafficking. Executions are often public and involve the condemned either being shot through the heart or the back of the head. It is then also not unheard of for the body to be crucified and put on display as a warning for others. Given the high level of unrest and terrorist related activities in Yemen, it’s likely we’ll be seeing this country high up any future list involving executions.
5. USA – 35 Executions Per Year
The United States is one of only two countries on this list with concrete execution figures from 2014. It is also the only country in the Americas which carried out any executions last year. A total of 31 states carry the death penalty. In extraordinary circumstances, the Federal Government and military can enact the death penalty for crimes committed in states without capital punishment. This was most recently seen in Massachusetts with respect to the Boston bombings. The death penalty is applicable in cases of murder, treason, terrorism, espionage and drug trafficking. The preferred method of execution is by lethal injection but some states still have the option of using the electric chair, firing squad, gas chamber and hanging.
4. Iraq – 61+ Executions Per Year
Between 2004 and 2013, Iraq reportedly executed nearly 450 people. Given the instability and turmoil experienced in the country at that time this number is hardly surprising. Last year, the country saw at least 61 confirmed executions for crimes like murder, terrorism related charges and drug trafficking. The official method of execution for those who receive the death penalty in Iraq is by hanging. Perhaps the most famous execution by hanging in the country was that of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, carried out in December 2006. As Iraq continues to experience a high level of instability and threats from the likes of ISIS, it is likely the number of executions, especially for terrorism related charges, will continue to increase over time.
3. Saudi Arabia – 90+ Executions Per Year
If you are handed a death penalty in Saudi Arabia it’s a good bet you will lose your head because of it. This Middle-East country put at least 90 people to death last year, although odds are there were more than a few secret or unpublicized executions to go along with that. Saudi Arabia’s preferred method of execution is beheading by sword. Executions can be public and are handed out for a wide range of crimes although drug related offenses are one of the biggest reasons. From violent crimes like murder and armed robbery to non-violent ‘crimes’ including homosexuality, atheism and witchcraft, the death penalty is applied to a rather wide range of violations. Having executed 44 people by March 2015 alone, Saudi Arabia is set to surpass 2014’s record number of sentences.
2. Iran – 289+ Executions per Year
Runner up on our list of countries who execute the most people is the Islamic Republic of Iran. While Iran disputes the numbers given by Amnesty International, most outside observers agree that 289 is a conservative estimate. Under Iranian law, the death penalty can be handed out for everything from murder and terrorism to sodomy and adultery. In practice, the most common crimes punished by execution are murder and drug trafficking. In terms of execution methods, stoning has been mentioned from time to time in the Western press. In actuality, the practice of using a firing squad or death by hanging are the more likely methods of putting convicts to death.
1. China – 1000+ Executions Per Year
When you have a country of well over one billion people and still enforce the death penalty, you’d expect a high number of executions. That said, China maintains tight control over figures related to executions so precise figures are impossible to go by. Organizations, such as Amnesty International, work to piece together what information they can. The result is a very conservative estimate that China executed at least 1000 of its citizens last year. This figure is likely far higher given the extensive range of crimes punishable by death. From the low ranking criminal to the millionaire linked with organized crime to the factory owner who produces a faulty or dangerous product, China has demonstrated that it has limited tolerance for those who break the country’s laws.