The Death penalty in 2016: Facts and figures

11 April 2017

Global figures

At least 1,032 people were executed in 23 countries in 2016. In 2015 Amnesty International recorded 1,634 executions in 25 countries worldwide - a historical spike unmatched since 1989.

Most executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan – in that order.

China remained the world’s top executioner – but the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is considered a state secret; the global figure of at least 1,032 excludes the thousands of executions believed to have been carried out in China.

Excluding China, 87% of all executions took place in just four countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.

For the first time since 2006, the USA was not one of the five biggest executioners, falling to seventh behind Egypt. The 20 executions in the USA was the lowest in the country since 1991.

During 2016, 23 countries, about one in eight of all countries worldwide, are known to have carried out executions. This number has decreased significantly from twenty years ago (40 countries carried out executions in 1997). Belarus, Botswana, Nigeria and authorities within the State of Palestine resumed executions in 2016; Chad, India, Jordan, Oman and United Arab Emirates –all countries that executed people in 2015 − did not report any executions last year.

141 countries worldwide, more than two-thirds, are abolitionist in law or practice.

In 2016, two countries – Benin and Nauru– abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes. In total, 104 countries have done so – a majority of the world’s states. Only 64 countries were fully abolitionist in 1997.

Commutations or pardons of death sentences were recorded in 28 countries in 2016. At least 60 people who had been sentenced to death were exonerated in 9 countries in 2016:Bangladesh (4), China (5), Ghana (1), Kuwait (5), Mauritania (1), Nigeria (32), Sudan (9), Taiwan (1) and Viet Nam (2).


Amnesty International recorded 3,117 death sentences in 55 countries in 2016, a significant increase on the total for 2015 (1,998 sentences in 61 countries). Significant increases were recorded in 12 countries, but for some, such as Thailand, the increase is due to the fact that the authorities provided Amnesty International with detailed information.

At least 18,848 people were on death row at the end of 2016. The following methods of execution were used across the world: beheading, hanging, lethal injection and shooting. Public executions were carried out in Iran (at least 33) and North Korea.

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 2016 in Iran.

In many countries where people were sentenced to death or executed, the proceedings did not meet international fair trial standards. In some cases this included the extraction of “confessions” through torture or other ill-treatment, including in Bahrain, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.


Regional analysis


For the 8th consecutive year, the USA was the only country to carry out executions in the Americas region with 20 people executed in 2016 (eight fewer than in 2015). This was the lowest number of executions recorded in a single year since 1991. This rate of executions is half that of 2007, a third that of 1997.

Five states executed people in 2016 compared to six the previous year.  The number of executions carried out in Georgia almost doubled compared to the previous year (from 5 to 9); while the figure almost halved in Texas (from 13 to 7). Together these two states were responsible for the 80% of all executions in the country during the year. However, 2,832 people were still on death row in the USA at the end of 2016.

The number of death sentences in the USA also decreased from 52 in 2015 to 32 in 2016 (38% decrease). This is the lowest number recorded since 1973.

Only three other countries in the region, Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, imposed death sentences in 2016. Two Caribbean countries –Antigua and Barbuda and Bahamas— commuted their last remaining death sentences.



At least 130 executions were carried out in 2016 in 11 countries, down from at least 367 executions in 12 countries in 2015. This was mainly due to Pakistan, where executions decreased by 239 (73%). The figure for Asia-Pacific does not include executions carried out in China, where executions were still in the thousands. But the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is treated as a state secret.

New information about executions in China, Malaysia and Viet Nam exposed the extent to which governments are keeping their use of the death penalty secret. Pressured by parliament, Malaysia revealed that it had executed nine people in 2016, and that, as of 30 April 2016, 1,042 people were under sentence of death.

New data from Vietnam showed that it was one of the world’s biggest executioners. According to a report of the Viet Nam’s Ministry of Public Security which became public in February 2017, 429 prisoners were executed between 6 August 2013 and 30 June 2016. Only China and Iran executed more people during that period.

At least 1,224 new death sentences were imposed in 18 countries across the region, a noticeable rise from at least 661 in 2015 (a 85% increase). This is linked to considerable increases in these figures for Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand, with the Thai authorities providing Amnesty International with a full figure of 216 new death sentences for the first time in recent years.

Maldives and the Philippines took steps in the wrong direction towards the resumptions of executions after more than six decades and the reintroduction of the death penalty, respectively.


Sub-Saharan Africa

The use of the death penalty in Sub-Saharan Africa was mixed. Whilst fewer executions were recorded, the number of death sentences logged rose by 145%. At least 22 executions were carried out in five countries – compared to 43 executions in four countries in 2015.

Death sentences rose from 443 in 2015 to at least 1,086 in 2016, mainly due to an increase in Nigeria (from 171 to 527) which handed down more death sentences this year than any other country except China. The danger of people being executed for crimes they did not commit remains ever-present: half of the exonerations recorded around the world in 2016 were in Nigeria (32).


Europe and Central Asia

In Europe and Central Asia, Belarus resumed executions after a 17-month hiatus. Belarus and Kazakhstan are the only two countries in the region to use the death penalty. 


Middle East and North Africa

The number of executions recorded in the Middle East and North Africa decreased by 28% against the previous year, from 1,196 executions in 2015 to 856 in 2016.

Iran alone accounted for 66% of all recorded executions in the region. The overall number of executions carried out in Iran, however, dropped by 42% (from at least 977 to at least 567) compared to the previous year.

Saudi Arabia executed at least 154 people – maintaining the high level set in 2015 (158) which was the highest number recorded for Saudi Arabia since 1995.