The number of executions recorded globally in 2023 was the highest for eight years, as some Middle Eastern states sharply increased their use of the death penalty, Amnesty International says.

A total of 1,153 people are known to have been put to death across 16 countries, more than 30% up on 2022, says the group in its annual report.

Iran alone carried out 74% of those executions, stepping up its use of the death penalty for drug offences, while Saudi Arabia accounted for 15%.

The figures exclude China, which is thought to execute thousands of people each year.

"Due to state secrecy, Amnesty’s data does not include the thousands of people believed to have been executed in China, which remains the world’s lead executioner," the organisation said.

"Similarly, Amnesty was unable to put forward figures for North Korea and Vietnam, countries believed to resort to executions extensively."

The total was the highest annual figure recorded by Amnesty since 2015, when 1,634 people were known to have been executed.

Amnesty says Iran put at least 853 people to death last year - up from 576 in 2022 and 314 in 2021. More than half of 2023's executions were for drug-related offences.

Despite the increase in executions worldwide, the number of countries putting people to death was the lowest to date, Amnesty said. No executions were recorded in Belarus, Japan, Myanmar or South Sudan, all of which carried out death sentences in 2022.

“The huge spike in recorded executions was primarily down to Iran," said Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard.

"The Iranian authorities showed complete disregard for human life and ramped up executions for drug-related offences, further highlighting the discriminatory impact of the death penalty on Iran’s most marginalised and impoverished communities."

In contrast, Pakistan repealed its death penalty for drug offences last year, while the mandatory death penalty was abolished in Malaysia.

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