LONDON, England (CNN) -- China executed at least 470 people last year -- more than any other country in the world, according to an annual report on the death penalty by the human rights group Amnesty International.
A woman is shown being taken to her execution in Beijing, China, in 2001.
The group said that five countries carried out 88 percent of all known executions worldwide: China (470 people), Iran (317), Saudi Arabia (143), Pakistan (135) and the United States (42).
Exact figures for how many people were put to death in China are difficult to come by because the country considers the death penalty a "state secret," Amnesty said.
"As the world and Olympic guests are left guessing, only the Chinese authorities know exactly how many people have been killed with state authorization," the group said.
Last year, China reformed the way capital cases are handled, with the Supreme Court deciding all cases. This led to a drop in the number of executions, with "half of the cases changed to a reprieve in the end," according to an article last week in China's state-run news agency, Xinhua.
In December, the United Nations General Assembly called for a global end to the death penalty. But for now, the Amnesty report said, many countries continued to execute people for offenses that trigger much less severe sentences in other countries.
In Iran, for example, a father of two was stoned to death for adultery. An Egyptian national was beheaded in Saudi Arabia for practicing sorcery. And a factory manager in North Korea was shot by a firing squad because he appointed his children as managers and made international phone calls. E-mail to a friend