Death sentences 'running at record levels' although execution toll falls
Executions fell by more than a third around the world last year but a record number of people were sentenced to death, a new report says.
Amnesty International found there were 1,032 executions in 23 countries in 2016 compared to 1,634 in 25 nations in 2015.
Campaigners welcomed the 37% year-on-year fall but warned the number remains historically high.
The study says 3,117 people were sentenced to death in 55 countries in 2016.
This was a sharp jump on the previous year's tally (1,998) and exceeded a record-high of 2,466 reported in 2014.
At least 18,848 individuals were known to be under a sentence of death worldwide at the end of last year.
Researchers stressed the findings on the use of the death penalty are only minimum figures and the true totals are likely to be higher.
They do not include China, where executions are said to run to thousands annually.
Amnesty raised concerns Britain may be "toning down" criticism of countries that use the death penalty as it pursues trade deals and enters into new security arrangements.
The organisation's UK Director Kate Allen said: "We fear that trade and security issues are trumping human rights, with UK officials damping down their objections to the death penalty when it comes to countries like Saudi Arabia or Bahrain.
"At its best the UK does some very important work in encouraging countries to end capital punishment, but with death sentences running at record levels around the world now is not the time to go quiet on the issue.
"If governments in Beijing, Manama, Islamabad and Riyadh see there's very little public outrage over executions, then they're going to think they've got a green light to carry on killing."
The analysis found executions in the US fell to the lowest level in a quarter of a century, with 20 recorded last year.
There were also significantly fewer executions in Iran (down from 977 in 2015 to 567 last year) and Pakistan (down from 326 in 2015 to 87 last year), according to the assessment.
Methods of execution used around the world included beheading, hanging, lethal injection and shooting.
Overall, 141 countries in the world are now "abolitionist", meaning they have either completely abolished capital punishment or are no longer using it in practice.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "The UK's opposition to the death penalty is clear; we condemn and do not support it under any circumstances.
"The global trajectory is towards abolition and the UK supports this trend.
"We will continue to back the UN global moratorium on the use of the death penalty as a first step towards ultimate abolition."