Wed, Apr 12, 2017 - Page 6 News List

PRC executions outpace rest of world

ANNUAL DECREASE:The US recorded 20 executions last year, its fewest in 25 years, in part because of court rulings and shortages of chemicals, Amnesty International said

AP, BEIJING

China’s use of the death penalty remains shrouded in secrecy and still outpaces the rest of the world combined, even after the nation’s execution rate fell sharply over the past decade, human rights advocates said yesterday.

Amnesty International reported 1,032 state-sponsored executions worldwide last year, excluding China, where the true number is unknown because the government considers it a state secret.

The group said it believes China executed thousands, but it did not offer a more precise estimate due to a lack of accurate information.

US-based human rights group the Dui Hua Foundation estimates about 2,000 executions took place in China last year, down from a 6,500 a decade ago, Dui Hua executive director John Kamm said.

The tally was based on research into lower-level court cases, and contacts with government officials and Chinese and Western legal academics, Kamm said.

Amnesty said its figure for worldwide executions excluding China represented a 37 percent drop from 2015. The US recorded 20 executions, its fewest in 25 years, in part because of court rulings and shortages of chemicals used in lethal injections.

Yet as other nations shift away from capital punishment, China increasingly is seen as an outlier, Amnesty International East Asia director Nicholas Bequelin said.

Government officials did not immediately comment on Amnesty’s report, but Chinese Supreme People’s Court Chief Justice Zhou Qiang (周強) told the national legislature last month that over the past decade executions were limited to “an extremely small number of criminals for extremely serious offenses.”

China has faced longstanding pressure from the international community to curb its use of the death penalty, which reached a frenzy in 1983 with 24,000 executions after provincial courts were given powers to mete out capital punishment, Dui Hua said.

The nation has also faced criticism for harvesting organs from executed inmates, including for sale to overseas patients.

China banned the practice in 2015, but Bequelin said it is impossible to know whether organ harvesting for profit has ceased because the legal system operates within a “black box” with little transparency.

“China is trying to have it both ways, both getting credit and allaying international pressure over the death penalty in the county, while maintain and enforcing an elaborate system of secrecy,” Bequelin said.

Oversight of death sentence cases was returned to China’s Supreme People’s Court in 2007. Since that time, the government has narrowed which crimes can bring capital punishment, but still lists more than three dozen eligible offenses, including treason, separatism, spying, arson, murder, rape, robbery and human trafficking.

China University of Political Science and Law criminal law professor Hong Daode (洪道德) said that 90 percent of executions last year were for homicide cases.

“There has been a long tradition in China that the one that has taken people’s lives should pay with his own life,” Hong said.

However, Susan Trevaskes of Australia’s Griffith University concluded in a study that close to half of all death sentences were handed down for drug crimes.

Efforts to reform how such cases are handled by the courts have been frustrated by the government’s attitude that all drug crimes constitute a threat to society, said Trevaskes, author of the 2012 book The Death Penalty in Contemporary China.

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