11/04/2017 9:08 AM AEST | Updated 11/04/2017 9:26 AM AEST

China Is Leading The World In The Use Of The Death Penalty

How many people have been executed is a state secret.

AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
Amnesty International: China's horrifying use of the death penalty remains one of the country’s deadly secrets.

CANBERRA -- The world's most prolific state executioner continues to kill thousands of people each year at a 'grotesque' level, according to human rights group Amnesty International, but the exact number of people killed by the Chinese state is unlikely ever to be known.

It's the nation with which the Turnbull Government recently tried to ratify an extradition treaty but failed after a backbench revolt over human rights concerns and a lack of transparency in China's justice system.

Chinese courts have a conviction rate of about 99.9 per cent and there are concerns about political persecution, cruel treatment and torture.

In its latest annual report on the global use of the death penalty, Amnesty has recorded a remarkable 37 per cent drop in worldwide executions to 1,032 in 2016, down from 1,634 in 2015.

Amnesty International

The number of people sentenced to death has increased to 3,117 people in 55 countries for 2016, up from 1,998 in 61 countries in 2015.

However that annual figure does not include China, as it is unknown and regarded as a "state secret", but Amnesty still believes the number to be in the thousands and more than all other countries put together.

Amnesty stopped publishing its estimated figures on the use of the death penalty in China in 2009 as it said the figures it was able to publish "were significantly lower than the reality", and it was concerned about how the Chinese authorities misrepresented the "lower" numbers.

The death penalty is also a state secret in Vietnam and Amnesty could only get limited information from Laos, Malaysia, North Korea and Singapore.

Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan join China as world's top five executioners, while the United States has now dropped out of the top five for first time since 2006, with 20 Americans executed in 2016 down from 28 the previous year.

Two countries abolished the death penalty in 2016, Benin and Nauru.

Australia flatly opposes the death penalty, and in 2015, the Turnbull Government stated Australia would be "unrelenting in our efforts to secure the abolition of the death penalty" around the world.

According to Amnesty, at least 18,848 people were under sentence of death worldwide at the end of 2016.

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