LONDON - Twenty-one nations carried out the death penalty in 2012, according to Amnesty International's yearly report, published Wednesday. That is the same number as in 2011 - but a marked shift from ten years ago, when 28 countries carried out executions.
Kamil Alboshoka is an Iranian Arab who sought asylum in Britain seven years ago.
Two of his cousins and his three best friends, all from the Ahwazi Arab minority, are accused of treason and are facing execution.
He says had he not left Iran he may have faced the same fate.
"Definitely, if I didn't flee I would be being executed with them, in the same situation. It is just I was lucky to flee," he said.
Now, when he is not studying, he campaigns with the support of global human rights organizations to stop the executions of his friends and family.
"I was very close with them so we had a very good time with each other. So I cannot imagine them being executed," he said. "I can't, it's too hard."
The London-based human rights group Amnesty International monitors executions. It says the number of executions last year in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East was alarming.
"Seventy-five percent of all confirmed executions that we are counting were carried out in three countries worldwide, which are Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. And, especially in Iraq and Iran," said Jan Wetzel, the author of Amnesty's 2012 report. "We see hundreds of executions -- that's just the ones we know about -- hundreds every year."
Wetzel says 70 percent of executions in Iran are related to drugs charges.
According to the report, 682 executions were recorded worldwide, last year, two more than in 2011. Methods included lethal injection, hanging, beheading and firing squads.
Amnesty says aside from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, China and the United States were the worst offenders.
The United States was the only country in the Americas to carry out executions. The number was 43, which is the same as in 2011. In April, Connecticut became the 17th state to abolition the death penalty.
Although China's figures are a state secret, Amnesty believes thousands are executed there every year.
Wetzel says the report highlights some bad news in the Asia-Pacific region: the resumption of executions last year in Japan, India and Pakistan.
But he says there was also good news.
"On the positive front, we do see a lot of movement specifically in West Africa, where governments in Benin, in Ghana, in Sierra Leone are actively taking steps to move away from the death penalty and are preparing legal abolition," he added.
Despite those moves in West Africa, the number of death sentences across Sub-Saharan Africa rose in 2012 because of higher tallies in Sudan and the Gambia. In Gambia, nine people were killed in August - a major shift after a 30-year hiatus.