A sharp rise in executions in the Middle East meant more judicial killings last year even as fewer countries resorted to capital punishment, according to new figures published yesterday.
Amnesty International recorded at least 360 executions in Iran, 82 in Saudi Arabia and 68 in Iraq in 2011. As a result, the overall count of people killed as a result of the death penalty rose to at least 676 last year, up from 527 in 2010, when Iran executed 252, Saudi Arabia killed 27 and Iraq executed one person.
But while the global total jumped, the number of countries that carried out executions last year fell to 20, down from 23 in the year before.
"The vast majority of countries have moved away from using the death penalty," Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary-general, said. "Even among the small group of countries that executed in 2011, we can see gradual progress."
But the figures do not include what the human rights group said were "the thousands of prisoners thought to have been executed in China". They also exclude what Amnesty termed "credible reports" of unacknowledged executions in Iran.
The annual statistics from the rights group featured prisoners sentenced for a variety of offenses, including blasphemy in Pakistan, sodomy in Iran and sorcery in Saudi Arabia.
In addition to those executed last year, Amnesty also recorded that 1,923 people were sentenced to death in 63 countries last year, compared with 2,024 in 2010.