Execution methods around the world

Beheadings, hangings and electrocutions are still performed as capital punishment

Despite campaigns calling for an end to capital punishment, executions are still carried out around the world. in 2013, 22 countries executed people, according to Amnesty International.

In the United States lethal injection is considered the most humane form of execution, although recent debate over the secrecy surrounding the drugs used has questioned that assertion. Other countries continue to employ execution methods now considered outdated in the U.S., but the end result is the same.


Balal, convicted of killing a youth in a street fight in 2007, is brought to the gallows in northern Iran on April 15, 2014.
Arash Khamooshi/AFP/Getty Images

Execution by hanging is the most common method of capital punishment. Iran – where 369 people were reported executed in 2013 – leads the world in hangings.

On April 26, an Iranian prisoner was publicly hanged after being convicted of rape. Another Iranian, convicted of murder for killing a youth with a knife in a street fight in 2007, was hanged on April 15.

Other countries that carried out hangings in 2013 include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Botswana, India, Iraq, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Nigeria, the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, South Sudan and Sudan.

The last person to be hanged in the United States was convicted murderer William Bailey in 1996 in Delaware.

Firing squad

Lindsay Sandiford
Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP/Getty Images

Firing squad is the preferred method of execution in Indonesia. Twelve armed executioners shoot the prisoner in the chest. If the prisoner is still not dead, the commander then issues a final bullet to the head. In March last year, Indonesia executed by firing squad a Nigerian convicted of dealing drugs. In a highly publicized case, in January 2013 Indonesia sentenced 56-year-old British woman Lindsay Sandiford to death by firing squad for charges of smuggling cocaine into Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport.

Other countries that carried out executions by firing squad in 2013 include China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Taiwan and Yemen. It is also a preferred method by the United Arab Emirates. The last time the United States exercised a firing squad execution was on convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner in Utah on June 18, 2010.


Saudi Arabia beheads Sri Lankan maid Rizana Nafeek on Jan. 9, 2013
Press TV/YouTube

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where beheadings are used as a method in capital punishment. 

In May of last year, Saudi Arabia beheaded five Yemeni men and a Saudi. The Yemeni men were convicted of forming an armed gang, armed robbery and murder. The Saudi was also convicted of murder.

The beheadings are preformed publicly with a sword.

Lethal injection

Gurney at Huntsville, TX death chamber
Joe Raedle/Newsmakers

Though the end result of death is the same in all methods of executions, lethal injection is often viewed as the least cruel. Injecting a fatal dose of drugs into a death row inmate has become the primary method of execution in the United States.

However, as a result of controversy associated with supplying states with the lethal drugs, pharmaceutical companies have banned the sale of their drugs for lethal use. To fill the void, states have relied on compounding pharmacies to provide cocktail drugs, but this has proven to be unreliable in recent deaths. A botched execution that used a new drug combination left an Oklahoma inmate writhing, twitching and clenching his teeth on the gurney on April 29, leading prison officials to halt the proceedings before the inmate's eventual death from a heart attack.

In 2013, lethal injection was also used in China and Vietnam.


Electric chair in Terre Haute, Indiana
Scott Olson/Newsmakers/Getty Images

The United States is the only country to exercise capital punishment using electrocution in 2013.

Robert Gleason Jr., 42, convicted of murdering two inmates on separate occasions, was executed using the electric chair in Virginia on Jan. 16, 2013. 

Previous electric chair executions sparked outrage. In 1997, convicted murderer Pedro Medina was executed by the electric chair in Florida. His head burst into flames during the procedure. Also in Florida, in 1999, convicted murderer Allen Lee Davis was executed in an electric chair. Photos of his bloodied face appeared online.

In, 2008, the Nebraska Supreme Court declared execution by electrocution illegal for being "cruel and unusual punishment."

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