At least 690 prisoners were executed in 20 countries in 2018, marking a 31% fall from at least 993 from the previous year, according to Amnesty International. Belarus was among a handful of countries that defied the trend.
A total of 2,531 death sentences were imposed in 54 countries last year, decreasing from 2,591 recorded worldwide in 2017. This is the fewest deaths by capital punishment in a decade.
At the end of last year, 106 countries had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes and 142 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
“The dramatic global fall in executions proves that even the most unlikely countries are starting to change their ways and realize the death penalty is not the answer,” Amnesty International Secretary-General Kumi Naidoo said.
Overall, 2018’s figures show that the death penalty is firmly in decline, and that effective steps are being taken across the world to end the use of this cruel and inhuman punishment.
Meanwhile, China remains the world’s leading executioner, where figures believed to be in the thousands are classified as a state secret.
The next four nations are Iran (253), Saudi Arabia (149), Vietnam (at least 85) and Iraq (at least 52). Together, the five countries accounted for 78% of total reported executions.
Interestingly, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia saw significant falls in reported executions between 2017 and 2018.
Japan, Singapore and South Sudan reported their highest levels of executions in years, and Thailand resumed executions after almost a decade.
Belarus remains the only European state that carries out executions put at least four people to death in 2018, twice as many as in 2017.
The country is in the group of states – US, Japan, Singapore, and South Sudan – where the number of executions has risen despite the global trend. At least four executions were recorded in Belarus last year.
Those executed were convicted murderers Alyaksey Mikhalenya and Viktar Liotau, who were taken from their cells one night in May “and never returned”.
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The other two were Ihar Hershankou and Siamion Berazhnoy, who were executed “without prior notification” in November for murder, kidnapping, and other charges.
Amnesty described their cases as unique, since the Belarusian Supreme Court reviewed their trials following an appeal, but upheld their death sentences in July 2018.