Capital punishment in the People's Republic of China

Capital punishment in the People's Republic of China
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Capital punishment in the People's Republic of China is currently administered for a variety of crimes, but the vast majority of executions are for cases of either aggravated murder or large scale drug trafficking. The People's Republic of China executes the highest number of people annually before The Supreme People's Court has ordered lower courts to suspend death sentences for two years [1], although other countries (such as Iran or Singapore) have higher execution rates per capita.[2] Article 49 in the Chinese criminal code explicitly forbids the death penalty for offenders who are under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.[3]

The death penalty is not practiced in Hong Kong or Macau, which are separate jurisdictions under the "one country, two systems" principle.


Legal procedure

After a first trial conducted by an Intermediate people's court concludes with a death sentence, a double appeals process must follow.[citation needed] The first appeal is conducted by a High people's court if the condemned appealed to it, and since 2007, another appeal is conducted automatically (even if the condemned opposed to the first appeal) by the Supreme People's Court of the People's Republic of China in Beijing. The execution is carried out shortly thereafter and is fairly automated. As a result of its reforms, China says, the Supreme People's Court overturned about 15 percent of the death sentences handed down by high courts in the first half of 2008. In a brief report in May, Xinhua quoted anonymous sources as saying Chinese courts handed down 30 percent fewer death sentences in 2007 compared with 2006.[2]

China has a unique form of sentence: "death sentence with two years' probation" (Chinese: 死缓; pinyin: sǐ huǎn) (discretionary). This sentence is generally reduced to life imprisonment after two years if no new crime is intentionally committed during the probationary period.[3]

Capital punishment in China can be politically or socially influenced. In 2003, a local court sentenced the leader of a triad organization to a death sentence with two years of probation. However, the public opinion was that the sentence was too light. Under public pressure, the supreme court of China took the case and retried the leader, resulting in a death sentence which was carried out immediately.[4]

The Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau have separate judiciaries and local laws and do not have capital punishment. This has created a barrier to the creation of proper extradition laws between the SAR and the mainland. It is quite a concern to many residents of the SARs that in many crimes with concurrent jurisdiction the central authorities have claimed the right to try, and potentially sentence to die, residents of Hong Kong and Macau. Usually, however, if the law is solely broken in SAR and not in Mainland, the PRC has no right to try Hong Kong and Macau residents under "one country, two systems". Hong Kong and Macau residents would then be tried locally in Hong Kong or Macau depending on where the law is broken outside of Mainland.

Dropping death penalties for economic and non-violent crime is under consideration as of 2010.[5]

Executions procedure

The execution protocol is defined on the criminal procedure law, under article 212:[6]

Before a people's court executes a death sentence, it shall notify the people's procuratorate at the same level to send personnel to supervise the execution.
Death sentences shall be executed by means of shooting or injection.
Death sentences may be executed at the execution ground or in designated places of custody.
The judicial personnel directing the execution shall verify the identity of the criminal offender, ask him if he has any last words or letters, and then deliver him to the executioner for the death sentence. If, before the execution, it is found that there may be an error, the execution shall be suspended and the matter shall be reported to the Supreme People's Court for decision.
Execution of death sentences shall be announced to the public, but shall not be held in public.
The attending court clerk shall, after the execution of a death sentence, make a written record thereon. The people's court that caused the death sentence to be executed shall submit a report on the execution to the Supreme People's Court.
The people's court that caused the death sentence to be executed shall, after the execution, notify the family of the criminal offender.

In some areas of China, there is no specific execution ground. A scout team chooses a place in advance to serve as the execution ground. In such case, the execution ground normally will have three perimeters: the innermost 50 meters is the responsibility of the execution team; the 200 meter radius from the center is the responsibility of the People's Armed Police; and the 2 km alert line is the responsibility of the local police. The public is generally not allowed to view the execution.

The role of the executioner was fulfilled in the past by the People's Armed Police. In recent times, the legal police force (Chinese: 法警; pinyin: fǎ jǐng) assumed this role.

China currently uses two methods of execution. Since 1949, the most common method was execution by firing squad, which has been largely superseded by lethal injection, using the same three-drug cocktail pioneered by the United States, introduced in 1997. Execution vans are unique to China though. Lethal injection is more commonly used for "economic crimes", such as corruption, while firing squads are used for more common crimes like murder. There is a general trend towards moving to lethal injection, though. The cost of a lethal injection is cheaper, and according to a court official in Kunming, it lessens the risk of HIV in the cleanup of the firing squad. This method is promoted by the Central People's Government as less painful and more humane, and it plans to phase out the use of firing squads by 2010.[7]

Crimes punishable by death

Capital punishment is applied flexibly to a wide range of crimes, some of which are punishable by death in no other judicial system in the world. Before the revision of the criminal law in 2011, economic crimes such as tax fraud have appeared routinely among the dockets of those receiving the death sentence, as have drug offences. Capital punishment in China can be imposed on crimes against national symbols and treasures, such as theft of cultural relics and (before 1997) the killing of pandas.[8] Corruption, property crimes such as theft the 55 crimes that are eligible for the death penalty in China. Several crimes such as gold and silver smuggling and tax fraud were removed from the list of capital crimes in 2011.[9]

Capital punishment is also imposed on inchoate offenses, that is, attempted crimes which are not actually fully carried out, including repeat offenses such as attempted fraud. The recidivistic nature of the offenses, not their seriousness per se, is what is adjudicated to merit the capital sentence.

Rates of execution

By the confirmed numbers, the rate of executions in China is higher than the United States and Pakistan, though Iran executes more prisoners per capita.[citation needed] The Dui Hua Foundation declares that the true figures were higher; they estimate that China executed between 5,000 and 6,000 people in 2007, down from 10,000 in 2005.[2]

The exact numbers of people executed in China is classified as a state secret; occasionally death penalty cases are posted publicly by the judiciary, as in certain high-profile cases. One such example was the execution of former State Food and Drug Administration director Zheng Xiaoyu, which was confirmed by both state television and the official Xinhua News Agency.[10] Other media, such as Internet message boards, have become outlets for confirming death penalty cases usually after a sentence has been carried out.

In 2009, Amnesty International estimated 1718 executions took place during 2008 (which equates to 0.0001%, or 1 in 1,000,000 of the Chinese population[11]), based on all information available. Amnesty International claimed that the figure was likely to be much higher.[12] Amnesty international made an estimation of the Chinese execution rate and then indicated their estimation was likely inaccurate.

Pressure placed on local and regional bureaucracies under the auspices of the "strike hard" (严打) campaigns has led to the streamlining of capital cases; cases are investigated, cases and appeals are heard, and sentences carried out at rates much more rapid than in other states.[citation needed]

Execution of foreigners

Executions of foreigners in China are rare. On December 29, 2009, Akmal Shaikh, 53, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, was executed following his conviction in 2007 for the smuggling of 4 kilograms (8.8 lb) of heroin into China. The Chinese criminal code automatically stipulates a mandatory death sentence for smuggling heroin[13] in quantities more than 50 grams. Shaikh was executed after pleas for clemency by the British politicians and diplomats failed. The Chinese ambassador in London stated that the Chinese judiciary was independent of the government, and that the supreme court had made its decision.[14]

Antonio Riva, an Italian citizen was executed in 1951, along with a Japanese citizen, Ruichi Yamaguchi. They were convicted on the accusation of being involved in a plot to assassinate Mao Zedong and other high-ranking Communist officials.[15] On 6 April 2010, China executed Mitsunobu Akano, a Japanese citizen caught illegally carrying more than 1.5 kg of stimulants at Dalian Airport. Three Filipino citizens arrested separately in 2008 for carrying at least 4 kilograms (8.8 lb) of heroin were convicted and sentenced in 2009 and executed in March of 2011 via lethal injection. The Government of the Philippines had appealed for clemency on the behalf of the drug mules, but a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, said "we grant equal treatment for both domestic and foreign drug traffickers".[16]

See also


  1. ^ "China suspends executions for two years". International Business Times. 
  2. ^ a b c Fan, Maureen; Cha, Ariana Eunjung (2008-12-24). "China's Capital Cases Still Secret, Arbitrary". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  3. ^ a b "Selected Legal Provisions of the People's Republic of China Affecting Criminal Justice". Congressional-Executive Commission on China. 1997-03-14. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  4. ^ "Gang leader executed after retrial". China Daily. 2003-12-23. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  5. ^ China 'to drop death penalty for economic and non-violent crimes'
  6. ^ "Criminal Procedure Law of the People's Republic of China - 1996". Lehman, Lee & Xu. 1996-03-17. 
  7. ^ Segura, Cristian (2009-12-16). "China injects 'humanity' into death sentence". Asia Times. Retrieved 2010-08-18. 
  8. ^ "Threats". Panda Central. World Wide Fund for Nature. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "China Executes Ex-Food and Drug Chief". NPR. 2007-07-10. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ "Abolish the death penalty". Amnesty International. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  13. ^ Watts, Jonathan (2009-12-28). "Q&A: Capital punishment in China". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  14. ^ Topping, Alexandra; Watt, Nicholas; Watts, Jonathan (2009-12-29). "Fury as China executes British drug smuggler". Beijing: The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  15. ^ Watts, Jonathan; Woodward, Will (2009-12-29). "China's execution of Akmal Shaikh enrages British leaders". Beijing: The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  16. ^ Cerojano, Teresa; Tran, Tina (2011-03-30). "Philippines: China Executes 3 Filipino Drug Mules". Associated Press (Manila: NPR). Retrieved 2011-03-30. 

External links

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