Saudi executions jumped from 149 in 2018 to 184 last year, the majority for drug-related offenses and murder. File Photo by Tolga Bozoglu/EPA-EFE
April 21 (UPI) -- Saudi Arabia executed a record 184 people in 2019 while capital punishment generally declined in the rest of the world, human rights group Amnesty International said Tuesday.
Iraq, South Sudan, and Yemen joined Saudi Arabia as nations where the use of the death penalty significantly increased last year even as world as a whole saw a 5 percent decline, Amnesty said in its annual review of capital punishment.
"The death penalty is an abhorrent and inhuman punishment; and there is no credible evidence that it deters crime more than prisons terms," said Clare Algar, Amnesty International's senior director for research, advocacy and policy. "A large majority of countries recognize this and it's encouraging to see that executions continue to fall worldwide."
China remained the top executing country in the world, Amnesty said. Its exact total is unknown, since Beijing treats executions as a state secret, but the toll is estimated to be in the thousands. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt round out the top five.
Saudi executions jumped from 149 in 2018 to 184 last year, the majority for drug-related offenses and murder.
However, Amnesty said Saudi officials are increasingly using the death penalty as a political weapon against Shia Muslim dissidents.
Iraq had the greatest rise, where executions nearly doubled from at least 52 in 2018 to at least 100 in 2019, mainly due to the government executing members of the Islamic State terror group.
Still, Amnesty said the overall decline led to optimism that global abolition of the death penalty was "within reach" -- only 20 countries are responsible for all known executions worldwide.
"We are calling on all states to abolish the death penalty," Algar said. "There needs to be international pressure on the world's last remaining executioners to end this inhuman practice for good."