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Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

SC may review death by hanging: What are the execution methods around the world?

While hanging is the most commonly used method, electrocution, gas chambers and ‘pushing off a great height’, the last being only used in Iran, are the least used.

india Updated: Oct 07, 2017 08:35 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
(Illustration: Abhimanyu)

The Supreme Court asked the government on Friday to explain within three weeks why it shouldn’t ban hanging by the neck as a mode of execution.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra issued notice to the Centre on a PIL challenging section 354 (5) of CrPC that says a person sentenced to death shall be handed by neck till he is dead.

The petitioner told the bench it was an individual’s right to die with dignity, saying that hanging was barbaric and cruel.

While hanging is the most commonly used method of execution, electrocution, gas chambers and ‘pushing off a great height’, the last being only used in Iran, are the least used.

Here’s a look at the methods of execution across the world:


Hanging is the most common method of execution across the world, with the laws of 60 countries authorising it, according to Cornell Law School’s Death Penalty Worldwide. India, Japan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq are among the countries that execute by hanging.

The last executions in the United Kingdom were done by hanging until death penalty was abolished in the 1960s.

Lethal injections

Lethal injection was adopted in the US in 1977 as a humane alternative to the electric chair. The cocktail of lethal drugs are considered to be the most humane method of death penalty. Thirty three states in the US have lethal injection as a primary method of enforcing capital punishment, according to data by the Death Penalty Information Centre (DPIC).

In China as well, a court ruled in 2009 that lethal injections were less cruel than shooting, said Death Penalty Worldwide.

However, humans rights activists have argued against this method after death penalties were put on hold in the American state of Ohio in January 2014 after a botched up execution: An inmate had repeatedly gasped and snorted during a 26-minute procedure with a never-before-tried drug combo.


Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where beheadings are used for executions, reported Al Jazeera. The Gulf nation is known to execute convicts publicly with a sword.

If the executioner is skilled and has a sharp blade, it is among the least painful ways to die. When the infamous guillotine, designed by the French physician Dr Joseph Ignace Guillotin, to make beheadings painless and error-free, was first officially used for public execution in France in 1792, the crowd baying for blood were reportedly disappointed by the speed of death.


Shooting is still authorised as a method of execution by the military courts in India, a Law Commission report confirmed, although it’s use has not been witnessed in recent times.

Read | Death’s door: HT series on death penalties in India

The DPIC said on its official website that three American states still have the option of execution by shooting, but lethal injection remains their primary method of carrying out death sentences.

Indonesia, Afghanistan, US, Vietnam, Russia and North Korea are among the dozens of countries where execution by firing squads or shooting is legal.


Ironically, the first electric chair was built in 1888 to find a more humane way of execution. The electric chair was designed to make the brain and heart stop instantly, by conducting a high-voltage currents directly through the person.

Convict William Kemmler was executed in 1890 and other American states adopted this method soon after. A death-row inmate in Florida was executed through electrocution in 2013 when he opted for the chair instead of the lethal injection.

Read | Is humane execution really possible?

But there have been several cases of the prisoners taking more than a few minutes to lose consciousness. There was widespread opposition to electric chair executions after a convict’s head burst into flames in 1997 during the procedure in the US. Two years later, photos of a convict’s bloodied face were posted online.

(With agency inputs)

First Published: Oct 06, 2017 17:53 IST

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