China Still Executes More People Than Every Other Country Combined, But The Global Execution Rate Went Up Last Year Too

On Thursday, Amnesty International released its latest report on the use of the death penalty around the world. Spoiler: It's not good news. Although there's a global trend moving towards the abolition of the death penalty, the figure of publicly-disclosed executions shot up by a massive 15 percent in 2013. The report attributes the spike in executions to "virtual killing sprees" carried out by authorities in Iran and Iraq.

According to Amnesty's report, there were 778 publicly disclosed executions worldwide in 2013 — up from 682 in 2012. Topping the list was Iran, where at least 369 people were put to death by the state last year. Amnesty says that according to credible but unofficial sources, the real number could well be more than 700.

Iraq followed with 169, then Saudi Arabia with 79, and the United States with 39. The executions were carried out in many different ways, including beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and shooting.

Which isn't even the worst part. Since 2009, Amnesty International has not reported figures for China, where official execution statistics are treated as state secrets. However, Amnesty estimates that thousands are executed in China every year — far more than every other country on earth combined.

For the first time since 2009, not one execution was reported in Europe and Central Asia. And the US remained the only country among the 56 member states of the Organization For Security And Co-operation in Europe to still carry out executions in 2013. The USA and Japan are the only countries in the G8 to still perform executions.

However, America is following the trend toward abolition of capital punishment, at least somewhat: The number of executions in the USA was down four from 2012, and in May last year Maryland became the 18th abolitionist state. Last year, 41 percent of executions in the U.S. took place in Texas.

Last year, a total of 1,925 death sentences across the globe were handed down across 57 countries, and at least 23,392 people lived through the year with a death sentence hanging over their heads.

Overall, the number of countries practicing the death penalty last year was 22, which is down from 37 two decades ago. The report said that some countries — including the United Arab Emirates, Gambia and Pakistan — which carried out executions in 2012, didn't do so in 2013.

That said, there's still plenty to be concerned about. Amnesty International estimates that, based on credible sources, 70 people were executed in North Korea last year (although the actual figure is thought to be much higher.) Many of these were political opponents of dictator Kim Jong-un. Others in North Korea were put to death for actions that should not even be considered crimes, like pornography, escaping to China, and watching banned videos from South Korea.

There were more terrifying revelations in Amnesty's report. There were three juvenile offenders executed in Saudi Arabia last year, which is in violation of international law. Plus, in the the majority of countries where executions took place, death sentences were handed down after proceedings that did not meet international fair-trial standards.

Amnesty International on YouTube

And as for 2014? Well, it already looks like this year might be a terrible one for state executions. Earlier this week, a criminal court in the Egyptian city of Minya sentenced to death 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood for killing a single police officer, an action which Amnesty International called "grotesque."