The number of people executed by their own governments fell by 25 per cent last year, with China carrying out the most executions, Amnesty International said Friday.

The human rights organization report —the Annual Death Penalty Statistics — outlines the number of executions and death sentences carried out in the world in 2006.

According to the report, at least 1,591 people were known to be executed by their own governments in 25 countries last year.

Of those executions, 90 per cent took place in six countries:

  • China - 1,010
  • Iran - 177
  • Pakistan - 82
  • Iraq - 65
  • Sudan - 65
  • U.S.A. - 53

Amnesty International believes the Chinese figures are drastically underestimated, suggesting the real total is close to 8,000 executions, based on information from a Chinese legal expert. China keeps itsprisoner executions a state secret.

Five of the executions are known to be people under 18: four in Iran and one in Pakistan.

"The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment," said Amnesty Secretary General Irene Khan. "It must be abolished and a universal moratorium will be an important step forward."

Thousands on death row

The same year, 55 countries handed down 3,861 new death sentences, adding to the more than 20,000 people waiting on death row, said the report.

"A death penalty free world is possible if key governments are willing to show political leadership," said Khan.

Across the globe, Amnesty reports 128 countries have abolished the death penalty either by law or in practice, while 69 countries retain or use the death penalty.

Methods of execution include beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection, shooting, stoning and stabbing.

While Canada abolished capital punishment in 1976, it retained the death penalty for military crimes such as treason or mutiny. All references to the death penalty were wiped from the National Defence Act in 1998.

The final execution in Canada took place in Toronto in December 1962, when two men were hanged for murder.