[A-List] Number of Executions Falling Sharply in China
critical.montages at gmail.com
Fri Jun 8 22:59:16 MDT 2007
Number of executions falling sharply in China
By Jim Yardley
Friday, June 8, 2007
BEIJING: China, which puts more inmates to death than the rest of the
world combined, is reporting fewer executions this year after
reinstating a requirement that every death sentence must be reviewed
and approved by the country's highest court.
Ni Shouming, a spokesman for the Supreme People's Court, said lower
courts across the country were reporting declining numbers of
executions, though he did not provide any specifics. He told China
Daily, the official English-language newspaper, that the national
figures dovetailed with a recent survey of two lower courts in
Beijing, which found a 10 percent drop in executions during the first
five months of 2007.
Human rights experts have estimated that China executes 10,000 to
15,000 inmates a year. Beijing does not release official figures,
which are designated state secrets. But China has been under
increasing international and domestic pressure to improve its death
penalty system. Cases of wrongful executions have sparked national
outrage in recent years.
John Kamm, a human rights campaigner who has worked for years in
China, said Chinese leaders also want to put a better face on the
system as the 2008 Olympics draw nearer. He estimated that executions
had dropped sharply - even by 40 percent - in the six years since
Beijing was awarded the Olympics. He said two informed people in China
had told him that approximately 7,500 people were executed in 2006.
"The Olympics is not the only reason," Kamm said Friday in an
interview by telephone from Hong Kong. "When you execute somebody
wrongly - and a lot of people have been executed wrongly - you are
going to make a lot of people unhappy."
Kamm, director of the Duihua Foundation in San Francisco, which
monitors cases of political prisoners in China, said he expected the
number of executions to continue to decline now that the Supreme
People's Court had final authority. He said that lower courts would be
forced to use greater discretion in applying the death penalty and
also that the high court could return certain cases for retrial.
Ni, the high court spokesman, told China Daily that courts were
already being more conservative in issuing death sentences. "The lower
courts have to be more prudent now," Ni said. "If a case is sent back
for a retrial by the highest court, it not only means the first
judgment is wrong, but also a matter of shame for the lower court."
China remains committed to capital punishment. Last year, Prime
Minister Wen Jiabao said the country had no plans to repeal the death
penalty, noting widespread public approval in China for the use of
But the public also has increasingly demanded fairness from a judicial
system in which less than 1 percent of all criminal defendants are
Legal analysts in China note that the new authority assumed by the
Supreme People's Court is not actually new. Prior to 1981, death
penalty cases were reviewed by the high court. But Deng Xiaoping, then
paramount leader of China, became so concerned about a nationwide
crime wave that appellate authority on death cases was shifted away
from the high court and given to the provinces.
The result was a fast-track criminal justice system: a capital
defendant was tried in a lower-level court; the appeal was handled by
the province's high court; and then that same high court handled the
"The problem was that the high court was serving both as the appeals
court and the final review of the case," said Keith Hand, a senior
fellow with the China Law Center at Yale University. "The chance that
a court would reverse itself was very small."
Xiao Yang, chief justice of the Supreme People's Court, told state
media this year that China "never again" would grant such power to
"A case involving a human life is a matter of vital importance," Xiao said.
The Supreme People's Court regained its authority Jan. 1. Legal
scholars in China have predicted that executions may fall by 20
percent or 30 percent once the change is fully absorbed by the
criminal justice system.
Reformers, meanwhile, are focusing their attentions on trying to
reduce the number of crimes punishable by death. China has more than
60 offenses eligible for a death sentence, ranging from murder to
public corruption and a range of economic crimes.
More information about the A-List