When Saudi Arabia executed 47 people last week, it marked an ominous start to surpassing the number of people it put to death last year. Human rights groups believe at least 150 people were executed in the kingdom in 2015. Most were beheaded, killed by firing squad or stoned to death.
Although executions are now taking place in fewer and fewer countries, those that do execute prisoners tend to do it in a big way. Richard Clark, the founder of Capital Punishment U.K., which charts executions around the world, says there was a spike in the number of executions in a few countries last year, leading to a worldwide 70 percent rise over the number in 2014.
"Iran significantly increased the number of executions over 2014, roughly from about 480 to 750," he says. "Drug offenders account for the bulk of it."
Other human rights organizations say the number could be as high as 1,000 people. It's hard to know for sure, because Iran is one of the countries that doesn't divulge much information about the death penalty.
Another is China, which might be the leader in executions, says Maya Foa, withReprieve, a human rights organization based in London.