Click to enlarge (Richard Johnson / The Washington Post)

The year 2014 was a mixed one for executions. According to new data collected by Amnesty International, the number of executions carried out around the world dropped – but the number of death sentences given out as legal punishments increased dramatically.

In total, Amnesty – an advocacy group that opposes the death penalty – found that there were at least 607 people executed in 22 countries in 2014. As in previous years, the real number was likely far, far higher. Most notably, China is believed to have executed at least 1,000 people last year, but Amnesty excludes its estimate for China from the final count as it cannot be confirmed.

After China, the largest number of executions were believed to have occurred in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the U.S. Iran may have executed hundreds more without officially acknowledging them; it is also reported to have executed at least 14 people under 18, Amnesty found. While most countries used methods such as hanging, lethal injections and shootings, Saudi Arabia was the only country found to have executed people with beheadings.

Overall, the number of people executed dropped by 22 percent compared to 2013. 2014 saw a huge increase in the number of death sentences handed out. Amnesty found that there had been at least 2,466 death sentences recorded in 55 countries in 2014, a big increase over 2013, when at least 1,925 death sentences were recorded in 57 countries.

Much of this increase came from two countries in particular: Nigeria and Egypt. Nigeria's number of death sentences increased from at least 141 in 2013 to at least 659 in 2014. In Egypt, that figure jumped from 109 to 509. While Amnesty admits that the jump in figures for Nigeria may partly be explained by more complete information given to them by the Nigerian government in 2014, the organization warned that the global increase in death sentences appeared to be "a futile attempt to tackle real or imaginary threats to state security and public safety."

Many of these sentences may never be carried out – there were at least 19,094 people were on death row at the end of 2014, Amnesty noted, and commutations, pardons and exonerations of death row prisoners were recorded in multiple countries last year. But the rise in death sentences handed out in 2014 sets an ominous tone for the number of executions that might occur in 2015.

Still, Amnesty finds that just 22 countries, about one in 10 of all countries worldwide, are confirmed as having carried out executions in 2014. Two decades ago, 41 countries were carrying out executions. Japan and the United States were the only countries in the G8 group of leading advanced economies to carry out executions in 2014.

See also

A Chinese tale of abuse and a craving for justice

The facts — and a few myths — about Saudi Arabia and human rights

An execution in Florida and how often the U.S. uses capital punishment