The Death Penalty Club

One ominous way in which China leads the world is in the number of executions it carries out year after year. While government secrecy veils the exact number, China is estimated to have executed thousands of prisoners last year. We wonder: After China, which country carried out the most executions in 2012?

A. United States
B. Saudi Arabia
C. Iraq
D. Iran

A. United States is not correct.

The number of executions carried out each year in the United States has fallen over the last decade and a half — from a high of 98 in 1999 to 37 in 2008. The 43 executions carried out in 2012 was the fifth-highest number worldwide.

The United States was the only country in the Americas to execute prisoners in 2012, according to Amnesty International. The 43 executions took place in just nine of the 50 U.S. states. More than a third (15) were carried out by the state of Texas.

Eighteen U.S. states have abolished the use of the death penalty. Increasingly, their rejection of the practice has as much to do with financial factors as with moral and judicial ones. The state of Maryland cited a lack of evidence that the death penalty deters crime — and that it costs the state three times as much to prosecute a death penalty case as a life-without-parole case.

B. Saudi Arabia is not correct.

In 2012, at least 79 people were put to death in Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty International. That is the fourth highest number worldwide.

In recent years, executions have been used as punishment for murder and rape, but also for sorcery and drug trafficking. In 2012, 22 of the country’s 79 executions were for drug-related offences.

Saudi Arabia is one of 21 countries around the world to have carried out confirmed executions in 2012. Conditions in post-revolution Egypt and in civil war-torn Syria made it impossible for observers to confirm whether executions took place in those countries.

C. Iraq is not correct.

Iraq carried out the third-most executions in 2012, with at least 129 executions. The vast majority of these were for terrorism offences.

Shortly after invading Iraq in 2003, the United States suspended Iraq’s use of executions on the grounds that the deposed Baath Party had used the punishment as a means of religious oppression. It was reinstated a year later and was used, most notably, in the December 2006 hanging of Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity.

Iraq’s 129 executions in 2012 was the country’s highest number since 2005, according to Amnesty International. Iraq was one of only two jurisdictions in the region that carried out more executions in 2012 than in 2011 (although numbers for Egypt and Syria could not be determined).

D. Iran is correct.

With at least 314 executions in 2012, Iran uses the death penalty more than any other country except China. Iran uses it both to punish violations of personal morality laws, such as rape and adultery, and for political offences such as terrorism and treason.

Altogether, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen carried out 99% of the confirmed executions in the Middle East and North Africa region in 2012. This was the same percentage as in 2011.

Despite Iran’s relatively high number of executions, it is nowhere close the several thousand China is thought to have carried out. Because of state secrecy surrounding the practice, it is not possible to confirm actual numbers.

China and the other 20 countries that executed prisoners in 2012 are an ever-shrinking group. According to Amnesty International, since 1990 an average of three countries a year have abolished the death penalty. Over two-thirds of the world’s nations (141) have abolished the death penalty either by law or in practice.

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