Death penalty, also called capital punishment, is when a government or state executes (kills) someone, usually but not always because they have committed a serious crime. A crime that can be punished with the death penalty is called a capital crime or a capital offense.
About one third of the countries in the world have laws that allow the death penalty. The United States, the People's Republic of China, Japan and Iran are examples of countries that have a death penalty. Canada, Australia, Mexico and all members of Council of Europe are examples of countries that have abolished the death penalty. 75 countries have gotten rid of the capital punishment for all crimes. Another 20 can be considered abolitionist in practice. If they retain the death penalty in law but have not carried out any executions for the past 10 years or more.
Most of the countries that have a death penalty use it on murderers, and for other serious crimes such as rape or terrorism. Other countries especially ones with Authoritarian or Totalitarian governments, however, also use it for smaller crimes like theft, drugs, or for saying bad things about the government.
Which countries execute the most people?
A study by Amnesty International found that the following countries did the most executions in 2012: 
- China (4000+) data not officially released
- Iran (at least 314+)
- Iraq (at least 129+)
- Saudi Arabia (79+)
- United States (43)
- Yemen (28+)
- Oman (25+)
- Sudan (19+)
- Afghanistan (14)
Common reasons for execution
It is common to have people executed for crimes like murder, but there are also other crimes that carry the death penalty. Some of these are:
- Bank robbery (Saudi Arabia)
- Trafficking with human beings (this is like slavery) (China)
- General robbery if at least one person dies (America)
- Rape (China, Saudi Arabia)
- Trafficking or possessing certain illegal drugs in a certain quantity (Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and others)
- Bribery and Corruption (China)
- Adultery (Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan)
- Homosexuality (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan and Mauritania)
- Prostitution (both prostituting oneself and forcing others to do the same) (Iraq until 2003, Saudi Arabia)
- Apostasy in Islam (Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Sudan)
- Witchcraft (Saudi Arabia, Qatar)
During war time, the following crimes are punished by death:
- Treason (attempting to overthrow a government)[needs to be explained]
- Espionage (spying)
Who may not be executed
According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that became valid in 1976, people that were not at least eighteen years old at the time they committed the crime may not be executed. According to the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically its 13th amendment (2002), no one must be executed.
Some people think the death penalty is a good thing, and others think it is a bad thing. Many people on both sides of the argument have very strong feelings. One side says the death penalty is good because it scares people away from doing things that could get them killed, the other side says there's a potential of executing an innocent man; one says justice, retribution, and punishment; the other side says that execution is murder. Most people know the threat of crime to their lives, but the question lies in the methods and action that should be used to deal with it.
Throughout human history, governments and rulers have used many death penalty methods to execute people, such as crucifixion, flaying, and hanging. Some methods like crucifixion and flaying are no longer used by governments, because people think that these methods of killing are too cruel. The gas chamber was found unconstitutional in the United States (that is: against the United States constitution not allowing "cruel and unusual punishments") and is no longer used.
The Council of Europe has abolished all death penalty by 13th amendment of the European Convention on Human Rights. Amnesty International oppose all death penalty on ground of the right to life and prohibition of all tortures or any cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment insisted by Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Forms of execution
The following forms of execution are in use today:
- Electric chair: The prisoner is killed by a strong source of electricity attached to their head and leg.
- Lethal injection: The prisoner is poisoned with a mix of chemicals that are put into their body. Some countries use chemicals that are controversial.
- Firing squad: Some people shoot the prisoner with rifles. Firing squads are often used for soldiers during wars. One or more of those firing may have false ammunition that does not kill so that no one knows which person fired the shot that killed. A firing squad is a traditional military execution. Deserters, traitors and spies are sometimes shot.
- Hanging: The prisoner has a rope tied around their neck. They are then dropped from a height. The person can die from their neck being broken. They might die from choking (asphyxiation), if the drop is too small or knot was badly made. If the drop is too long or the prisoner too heavy, their head might be torn off. Japan, India and former British colonies use hanging.
- Strangulation, by hand or by garrote. The garrote was the main type of capital punishment in Spain for hundreds of years. Originally, the convict was killed by hitting him with a club (garrote in Spanish). This later developed into putting a loop of rope placed around the neck. A wooden stick was placed in the loop, and rotated to tighten the rope until the condemned person was strangled to death.
- Stoning: Stones are thrown at the prisoner until they die. Stoning is still used in some Middle Eastern countries.
- Decapitation: The victim has his or her head cut off with a sharp blade, such as sword, axe or guillotine. This was the traditional means of execution in central Europe and many other places. Decapitation is also called beheading. Decapitation is still used in some Middle Eastern countries, but the only country to actively use it is Saudi Arabia.
Beheading: Japanese behead a Chinese (Photo from 1901)
- Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 150.jpg
The Lapidation (Stoning) of St. Stephen is a painting by Rembrandt(1625)
- Goya-Guerra (15).jpg
And It can't be helped, a painting by Goya, showing a firing squad. (around 1810)
- Execution Lincoln assassins.jpg
Hanging of the four people convicted for murdering Abraham Lincoln (1865)
An old electric chair
- Capital punishment -Citizendium
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