Egypt and Nigeria accounted for well over 1,000 of the death sentences announced last year, more than a third of the world’s total, Amnesty International says in its latest annual report on the death penalty.
The London-based human rights group expressed alarm at the 28 per cent jump in death sentences: 2,466 people in 55 countries were condemned to death in 2014.
At least 607 people were executed in 22 countries last year.
Neither of those numbers is complete, as North Korea’s closed-off stance means that no estimate there was available. Amnesty International also doesn’t report numbers for China, where such information is considered a state secret.
The Dui Hua Foundation, a US-based prison research group, has estimated 2,400 executions happened in China for 2014, which is more than the rest of the world put together.
Amnesty International also said it was unable to confirm whether judicial executions took place last year in Syria, where civil war has raged for four years.
The countries with the most recorded executions last year were Iran with at least 289, Saudi Arabia with at least 90, Iraq with at least 61 and the United States with at least 35, the rights group said.
In Iran, hundreds more executions were “not officially acknowledged” and the total could be as high as 743, the organisation said.
Out of the 90 people executed in Saudi Arabia, two were women, an Ethiopian national and a Nepali national.
The 88 men comprised 53 locals, seven, Syrians, one Iranian, 21 Pakistanis, one Philippine national, two Yemenis, one Indian, one Turkish and one Iraqi.
Once again, the United States was the only country in the Americas to execute people in 2014, the report said. Texas and Missouri each carried out 10 executions.
Other US states that put people to death were Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Oklahoma.
The overall number of global executions last year dropped almost 22 per cent from 2013.
“The numbers speak for themselves: The death penalty is becoming a thing of the past, Amnesty International’ secretary-general, Salil Shetty, said.
But Shetty condemned the use of death sentences as a way to fight crime or “terrorism”.
Nigeria announced 659 death sentences, mostly for murder and armed robbery, but a military court in December sentenced to death 54 soldiers who had been accused of refusing to join operations against the extremist group Boko Haram.
The soldiers testified that they had not been properly equipped to go after Boko Haram, which has since pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Nigeria’s higher number of death sentences, up from 141 the year before, was also a result of more complete data offered by authorities.
Egypt announced at least 509 death sentences last year, many of them in the mass trials that have been held since the ouster of elected President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.
The practice has brought international criticism. In one case in December, 188 people were sentenced to death in the killing of 11 police officers.
In the United States, at least 72 death sentences were announced last year.
Amnesty International also expressed concern about countries that resumed the practice of executions, including Pakistan, which reinstated the death penalty in December after a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attack on an army-run school killed 150 people, most of them children in Peshawar.
At least seven people were executed in Pakistan in 2014 while 231 were sentenced to death.
While the government of India scheduled several executions in 2014, none were carried out. At least 64 new death sentences were awarded in the country.
“An alarming number of countries that used the death penalty in 2014 did so in response to real or perceived threats to state security and public safety posed by terrorism, crime or internal stability,” the new report said.
Other countries resuming executions in 2014 were Jordan, Singapore, Egypt, Belarus, the United Arab Emirates and Equatorial Guinea, the report said.
Indonesia said it would resume executions for drug-related crimes, straining ties in particular with Australia and Brazil, which both have citizens on death row there.
At of the end of last year, more than 19,000 people around the world were estimated to be living under death sentences.