Executions soar in Iran: how the rest of the world compares

Human rights group warns of an unprecedented spike in the number of people put to death in Iran

(Image credit: Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images)

The Iranian government is carrying out executions at a "horrifying rate", Amnesty International has warned.

The human rights organisation reports that nearly 694 people have been killed so far this year, equivalent to three executions a day. This figure far exceeds the official toll of 246 deaths recorded by the officials in Tehran and is on course to surpass last year's total of 753 executions. "Iran's staggering execution toll for the first half of this year paints a sinister picture of the machinery of the state carrying out premeditated, judicially-sanctioned killings on a mass scale," the organisation's Said Boumedouha told the BBC. Amnesty is calling for an immediate moratorium on executions, warning that death sentences were invariably being imposed by courts that lack independence and impartiality. The majority of those killed this year were convicted on drug charges, as well as adultery, sodomy and "vaguely worded" national security offences.

How does Iran compare to the rest of the world?

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Although 90 per cent of countries have banned the death penalty, at least 22 countries carried out executions last year. Many governments did so in response to "real or perceived" threats to state security posed by terrorism, crime or instability, Amnesty said in its last annual report.

At least 2,466 people are known to have been sentenced to death in 2014, an increase of 28 per cent from the previous year. The sharp increase was largely due to events in Egypt, where over 500 Muslim Brotherhood supporters were sentenced to death in one ruling, and in Nigeria, where dozens of soldiers were sent to death for refusing to fight against Boko Haram.

Highest reported sentencings in 2014:

  • Nigeria: 659
  • Egypt: at least 509
  • Bangladesh: at least 142
  • Tanzania: 91
  • Iran: 81

Many of the countries that retain the death penalty continue to use it in violation of international law and standards, Amnesty says. The execution of juveniles and people with mental or intellectual disabilities is of particular concern .

While the number of death sentences rose dramatically, the total number of executions fell. At least 607 executions were carried out worldwide, a decrease of almost 22 per cent.

Highest reported executions in 2014:

  • Iran: at least 753
  • Saudi Arabia: at least 90
  • Iraq: at least 61
  • US: 35
  • Sudan: 23

Although China is believed to be the world's largest executioner, data on the use of the death penalty is classified as a state secret. There is also little or no information available on several other countries, especially North Korea, Syria, Malaysia and Eritrea, due to restrictive state practice and/or political instability.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.