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Thu, Jan 06, 2000 - Page 3 News List

No mandatory death for kidnaps

CRIMINAL CODE Ministry of Justice officials are working to toughen punishments for more serious offenses so that the controversial `Banditry Law' can finally be scrapped after more than 50 years


In a move aimed at reducing the chances that kidnapping cases will end in murder, the Ministry of Justice announced plans yesterday to amend the criminal code so that convicted kidnappers whose hostages survived will no longer face a mandatory death sentence.

The move is part of the ministry's efforts to abolish the controversial Act for the Control and Punishment of Banditry (懲治盜-穇屭?, more commonly known as the "banditry law."

Punishments meted out under the act have long been criticized for being both outdated and extremely harsh.

Ministry officials reviewing the existing criminal code met for a second time yesterday, with the intention of drafting amendments that would incorporate parts of the controversial act into the code -- which some critics have complained is too soft on serious offenses such as kidnapping.

After some discussion, the officials decided to offer the courts several punishment options for six types of crimes -- kidnapping, robbery and assault, robbery and arson, robbery and rape, piracy and escape from jail -- for which the banditry law currently mandates the death penalty.

Under the proposed changes, kidnappers could face death, life imprisonment, or a jail sentence of more than ten years, depending on the circumstances of their case.

The minimum prison sentence for those convicted of kidnapping under the current criminal code (as opposed to the banditry law) is seven years.

According to the ministry, the changes are warranted because kidnappers charged and found guilty under the banditry law were sentenced to death regardless of whether or not their hostages survived. This "equal" treatment, the ministry believes, increased the likelihood that hostages would be killed.

Ministry officials said the change will be an incentive for kidnappers not to kill, thereby reducing the risks to hostages.

The "banditry law" was enacted in 1944 when China was in the midst of political and social turmoil. In such a climate, the law was made especially harsh in a bid to repress the frequent social unrest that occurred at the time.

More half a century has passed, however, since the law was created and criticism of its continued existence has grown over the years.

Critics say the law does not reflect the changes in society. They note the numerous ways in which the act is outdated, citing for example the regulations punishing people who hide in the mountains or marshes in order to fight the government or the military.

Other old-fashioned crimes include theft of corpses or theft of property inside a grave -- rare offenses in today's society.

The validity of the act has also been challenged on procedural grounds by more than two-thirds of the island's criminal law scholars.

It originally contained a one-year "sunset clause," which was not renewed on time on several occasions. That clause was removed in 1957 and the act stayed in force.

Faced with increasing pressure to abolish the act, the ministry recently agreed to repeal it once the current criminal code is revised.

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