LONDON— The human rights group Amnesty International says there was a spike in the number of death penalties carried out worldwide in 2013. The group says China topped the list, followed by Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
A sharp rise in the number of executions in Iraq and Iran contributed to an unexpected spike in death penalties carried out worldwide in 2013, says Amnesty International's Audrey Gaughran.
"We've reported on 369 executions carried out in Iran last year, which is deeply troubling. And a number of people have commented on the scale of executions in Iran. But we also believe that more executions may have taken place," said Gaughran.
Amnesty reported 169 executions in Iraq.
Somalia also contributed to the spike, with 34 recorded executions.
"Many of the executions that we recorded this year were in the autonomous region of Puntland. I would have to stress that the executions that we've recorded in Somalia as a whole are likely to be under-recorded," said Gaughran.
Amnesty says it believes that China tops the list of numbers of prisoners executed every year - with estimates in the thousands.
Earlier this month Zang Tiewei, a member of China's top legislative body, said Beijing was considering reducing the number of crimes subject to the death penalty.
He said an amendment to the Criminal Law is included in the annual legislative agenda, and they are considering reducing the number of capital crimes step by step.
But China still keeps its policies on capital punishment highly secretive, says Audrey Gaughran.
"Until the Chinese authorities start publishing death sentences and executions and making these public, it won't be possible to confirm whether their claims that they're reducing the use of the death penalty are in fact true," she said.
The United States was fifth on the list with 39 executions in 2013 - one place behind Saudi Arabia's 79.
Pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. have begun refusing to supply the drugs needed for lethal injections - forcing state authorities to turn to more loosely regulated companies known as compounding pharmacies.
Several death row inmates have launched court cases against their sentences, arguing that the use of less regulated pharmaceuticals could cause significant pain and is inhumane.
Last month, Michael Taylor - convicted of raping and killing a teenager in 1989 - lost his court case and was executed in Missouri.
Amnesty says a total of 22 countries worldwide carried out the death penalty in 2013, one less than in 2012.