The figure was a fall of 20 percent from 2012, the Dui Hua Foundation said, and a fraction of the 12,000 in 2002.

China is so reticent on the issue that it has done nothing to publicise the long-term decline in its use of the death penalty. But it still executes more people than every other country put together, rights groups say.

The total for the rest of the world combined was 778 people in 2013, according to campaign group Amnesty International's annual report earlier this year. It does not give an estimate for Chinese executions.

Dui Hua said that it obtained its figures from "a judicial official with access to the number of executions carried out each year".

But the recent annual declines were "likely to be offset" this year, it said, due to factors including the "strike hard" campaign in the violence-wracked largely Muslim region of Xinjiang.

Hundreds of people have been convicted of terrorist offences in the area, and last week a court condemned 12 to death in connection with a July attack.

"China currently executes more people every year than the rest of the world combined, but it has executed far fewer people since the power of final review of death sentences was returned to the (Supreme People's Court) in 2007," Dui Hua said.

China's top court examines all death sentences issued in the country, and sent back 39 per cent of those it reviewed last year to lower courts for additional evidence, Dui Hua said, citing a report by the Southern Weekly newspaper.

The Chinese legal system is tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party and courts have a near-100 percent conviction rate in criminal cases.

The use of force to extract confessions remains widespread in the country, leading to a number of miscarriages of justice.

China has occasionally exonerated wrongfully executed convicts after others came forward to confess their crimes, or in some cases because the supposed murder victim was later found alive.

In one landmark case in June, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence for Li Yan, a woman who killed her abusive husband.

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