Over 100 death sentences were handed out last year by courts in India which also expanded the scope of capital punishment by enacting new laws against hijacking, human rights watchdog Amnesty International said.
In 'The Death Sentences and Executions 2017' report released here yesterday, Amnesty said it has recorded at least 993 executions in 23 countries in 2017, down by four per cent from 2016 (1,032 executions) and 39 per cent from 2015 (when the organisation recorded 1,634 executions, the highest number since 1989).
At least 2,591 death sentences in 53 countries were recorded in 2017, a significant decrease from the record-high of 3,117 recorded in 2016.
These figures do not include the thousands of death sentences and executions that Amnesty International believes were imposed and implemented in China, where figures remain classified as a state secret.
In India, 109 death sentences were recorded in 2017. However, there were zero executions in the country last year.
Amnesty International recorded commutations or pardons of death sentences in 21 countries: India, Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco/Western Sahara, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Tunisia, the UAE, the US and Zimbabwe.
"Against international standards, India, Singapore and Thailand expanded the scope of death penalty by adopting new laws that would impose death sentence for hijacking, nuclear terrorism and corruption, respectively," it said.
In India, a total of 371 people were known to be under sentence of death at the end of 2017.
The report said that nine countries in the Asia-Pacific region carried out executions, down from 11 in 2016.
Indonesia and Taiwan did not implement any death sentences and India observed a hiatus on executions for the second year running.
The report added that a research by the Centre on the Death Penalty, National Law University, indicated that the courts in India imposed 109 new death sentences, including 51 for murder and 43 for murder involving sexual offences.
This represented a decrease in the total number of death sentences imposed (136 in 2016), as well as in those imposed for murder not involving other offences (87 in 2016). Two new death sentences were imposed for drug-related offences.
The Anti-Hijacking Act, 2016, which provided for the death penalty for hijacking resulting into death, came into force in July, the report said.
Amnesty recorded drug-related executions in four countries China (where figures are classified as a state secret), Iran, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.
The secrecy that shrouded capital punishment in Malaysia and Vietnam made it impossible to determine whether executions for drug crimes occurred.
Singapore hanged eight people in 2017 all for drug-related offences. There was a similar trend in Saudi Arabia, where drug-related beheadings rocketed from 16 per cent of total executions in 2016 to 40 per cent in 2017.
"Despite strides towards abolishing this abhorrent punishment, there are still a few leaders who would resort to death penalty as a 'quick-fix' rather than tackling problems at their roots with humane, effective and evidence-based policies. Strong leaders execute justice, not people," Amnesty International's Secretary General Salil Shetty said in the report.
He said the fact that countries continue to resort to death penalty for drug-related offences remains troubling.
"However, steps taken by Iran and Malaysia to amend their anti-drug laws go a long way towards showing that cracks are appearing, even in the minority of countries that still execute people," Shetty added.