More people were put to death in countries around the world last year than in any other year during the previous 25 years.
A report released Tuesday by Amnesty International said at least 1,634 people were executed in 2015, a rise of 54 percent from the year before and the highest number the human rights watchdog has recorded since 1989.
The surge was largely fueled by three nations — Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — that were responsible for almost 90 percent of all recorded executions.
The report said the "profoundly disturbing" numbers do not include the executions carried out by China, where thousands are likely to have been executed but where the use of the death penalty is a state secret.
Belarus, the only European country to use the death penalty, and Vietnam also do not provide data.
The dramatic rise in executions can be directly linked to the 76 percent increase in Saudi Arabia and the 31 percent increase in Iran.
In Saudi Arabia, at least 158 people were executed last year. Most were beheaded, but firing squads also were used and bodies were sometimes displayed in public. The report said the Saudis used the death penalty disproportionately on foreign nationals with no knowledge of Arabic, the language of trials.
Iran executed at least 977 people last year, most for drug-related offenses. Iran is one of the last countries to execute child offenders, in violation of international law. Last year, it executed at least four people who were under 18 at the time of their crimes.
Amnesty said Pakistan has continued an “alarming” killing spree since it lifted a moratorium on civilian executions in December 2014. More than 320 people were sent to the gallows in 2015, the highest number Amnesty has ever recorded for Pakistan.
In the U.S., the only country in the Americas to use capital punishment, there were 28 executions in six states, the lowest figure since 1991.
Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said, "Thankfully, countries that execute belong to a small and increasingly isolated minority."
For the first time, a majority of the world’s countries — 102 — have now fully abolished the death penalty. Four countries adopted the ban in 2015: Fiji, Madagascar, the Republic of Congo and Suriname.