What Death Row Is Really Like in These Countries

Contentious by nature, there are 54 countries in the world where the death penalty is in active use and another 27 where capital punishment is used as a threat by the government, even if no such sentence has been carried out in recent memory.

While some countries are open books with excessive reporting on death row and executions, others are shrouded in secrecy, which further fuels alarming horror tales.

Here are the top countries whose capital punishment laws will make you think next time you try to commit a crime.


There are approximately 2,500 individuals currently on death row, with an average of 12 years between sentencings. Each state that carries the death penalty has its own male and female death rows. Traditionally, executions take place via lethal injection, though the prisoner can request alternate methods in some states.

Compared to the rest of the countries on our list the USA is a joy ride. Although kept in isolation, death row inmates have access to visitation, legal counsel, and the ability to communicate with the outside world thru charitable programs like Prison Writers. They are famously granted a last meal of their choice.


Belarus is the only European nation that continues to exercise the death penalty. Although the sentence is carried out sparingly, its enforcement has precluded its acceptance by the European Council. Despite distressing reports regarding the nature of the sentence, the public remains in favor of the measure.

According to reports, death row itself is particularly taxing on the inmates. Prisoners are forbidden to use their beds outside of designated sleeping hours and are not given any opportunity for outdoor exercise. Visitation is also limited to monthly meetings with a lawyer or family.

Furthermore, inmates and their families are kept in the dark regarding the execution date. Prisoners just wait on death row until they are cuffed, blindfolded, and carried to the execution room to be shot in the head. Families often must wait weeks to hear that the sentence has been carried out. In general, the legal landscape in Belarus is underhand with reports of torture and coercion dotting the news cycle on a regular basis.


Singapore, a country with high standards of law and order, has led over 400 people to the gallows over the past 30 years on charges ranging from murder to drug violations. Although the president has the right to grant a pardon, it rarely ever happens. Despite the higher-than-average rate of executions per capita, the public largely favors the measure.

Inmates sentenced to death in Singapore are condemned to isolation with no bedding and are only allowed to receive visitors under tight supervision with a thick glass partition between them. Four days before the execution, the condemned are given privileges, such as TV time and food of their choice.


Although used sparingly, the continued practice of the death penalty is supported by over 80% of the population. Executions are carried out by hanging and are reserved exclusively for the most heinous crimes, such as mass murder. It’s notable that the conviction rate in Japan is over 99% and that during interrogation, there is no right to legal representation, sparking outcries that confessions are often coerced.

The average stay for a death row inmate is six years. Those years are spent in solitary confinement with little to no privileges, such as exercise and visits from family members.


Unlike most countries whose capital punishment death toll is trending downward, Egypt’s death stock has been rising. This past year, Egypt tripled its reported executions from 32 to 107, placing it third behind China and Iran. Convictions are often reported to come from confessions obtained under torture.

Mass sentencing plays a prominent role in the annual sum of executions. For example, following the 2013 coup d’état, nearly 700 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to death. Following nearly a decade’s worth of trials and appeals, 12 of the 700 were ultimately sentenced to death, while the remaining were sentenced to life in prison.

Execution is carried out by hanging, except for members of the military who get executed via a firing squad. According to the law, there is no obligation to report or notify the family regarding capital punishment.


The formerly Saddam Hussein-ruled Middle East country is very forthright with its statistics. According to UN statistics, approximately 4,000 prisoners are waiting on death row. Those who top the list are enemies of the state and ISIS operatives.

Iraq’s loose definition of “acts of terrorism” that necessitate the death penalty has come under scrutiny in recent years. Many who end up on death row are there for political reasons rather than being involved in any specific violent or harmful act.


The number of people waiting on death row is unknown, and the crimes that put them there reportedly range from anywhere between rape and political resistance. The country has averaged roughly 100 executions over the past decade. Vietnam’s capital punishment laws are under review, but it is widely believed the process is superficial rather than anything of substance.

Although the state abandoned death by firing squad in 2011, its alternative of lethal injection may not be much of an upgrade as the chemical being used is kept secret. According to the UN Committee Against Torture, prisoners on death row are subjected to harsh living conditions by perpetually being shackled to improperly ventilated cells and scanty sustenance.

Saudi Arabia

The Saudi justice system is based on Shariah law, which makes many offenses punishable by death, such as witchcraft and waging war on God. Executions are carried out by public beheadings or by being shot upon request. Mass public executions are common following civil unrest. Some can escape this fate with a “blood money” payment to the family of the victims.


Officially, the number of executions in Iran is in the triple figures, but the actual number is widely believed to be closer to 1000. Iranian law grants murder victims the right to demand the death penalty as well as to pardon the perpetrators. Crimes deserving of the death penalty are handed out even if they occurred as minors. Amnesty International estimates that 90 such prisoners on Iranian death rows fall under this category.

Hanging is the most common form of execution in the regime, and it is not uncommon to find stoning happening as well. Unlike regular long drop hangings where the victim meets a quick death, the Iranian regime commonly places prisoners on stools and lifts them with a noose on a crane, thus causing a protracted death by strangulation.


Despite a recent spike downwards, China still carries out most of the world’s capital punishment by yearly hitting quadruple digits. Over 40 wide-ranged crimes carry the death penalty, including the vague “undermining morale” wartime era crime.

China holds a 99% conviction rate, with a legal system heavily favoring the prosecution. There are no fixed execution spots, and there have been widely publicized reports of so-called execution vans to speed up the backlog of cases.

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