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Saudi Arabia executed more than 180 people last year, breaking its own record, Amnesty International says

Saudi Arabia executed more than 180 people last year, breaking its own record for executions, according to Amnesty International's latest global review of the death penalty. The international human rights group's report, which showed an overall worldwide decline in executions, was released this week. 

Amnesty said Saudi authorities executed 184 people in 2019 for crimes ranging from drug offenses to murder, an increase from 149 in 2018. The country put six women and 178 men to death last year, Amnesty said, with more than half of the people executed being foreign nationals.

The organization also reported "increased use of the death penalty as a political weapon against dissidents from Saudi Arabia's Shi'a Muslim minority." Among those killed by the Saudi regime were 37 people, most of them minority Shiites, in a mass execution for alleged terrorism-related crimes.

"The death penalty is an abhorrent and inhuman punishment; and there is no credible evidence that it deters crime more than prisons terms. A large majority of countries recognize this and it's encouraging to see that executions continue to fall worldwide," said Clare Algar, Amnesty International's Senior Director for Research, Advocacy and Policy in a statement

"However, a small number of countries defied the global trend away from the death penalty by increasingly resorting to executions," Algar continued. "Saudi Arabia's growing use of the death penalty, including as a weapon against political dissidents, is an alarming development. Also shocking was the massive jump in executions in Iraq, which nearly doubled in just one year."

The number of people executed in Iraq rose from 52 in 2018 to at least 100 in 2019, the report said. Most were accused of being part of ISIS.

Amnesty said China carried out by far the most executions of any country in 2019. The number is believed to be in the thousands, but the exact figure is unknown because China considers it a state secret.

"China has yet to publish any figures on the death penalty; however, available information indicates that each year thousands of people are executed and sentenced to death," Amnesty's report said. 

Iran ranked second in the world only to China in its use of the death penalty. It put at least 251 people to death last year, Amnesty said, but that's actually a slight decrease from the year before.

Worldwide, the total number of executions declined for the fourth straight year, dropping from 690 to 657 (a figure that excludes the unknown number from China). That's the lowest recorded total of the past decade, according to Amnesty.

In the United States, Amnesty counted 22 executions last year in 7 states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas (which had the most, with nine). Nationwide, 2,581 people were on death row across the U.S.

The report notes while that no country in the world eliminated the death penalty in 2019, several U.S. states took action against it. New Hampshire became the 21st state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes, and California Governor Gavin Newsom halted halted executions for at least as long as he remains in office, but more than 700 condemned inmates remain on the state's death row. California hasn't executed anyone since 2006. 

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