Monday, August 23, 2010

China announces proposed changes to its death penalty laws

According to the website of the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China, on Monday, a draft amendment of China's criminal law was proposed which will reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty in an attempt to better protect human rights. This is the eighth amendment to China's 1997 version of Criminal Law. These moves are being considered because they "...will not negatively affect social stability nor public security.". The draft amendment was submitted to the National People's Congress for its first reading; most draft laws will be read two or three times before being adopted.

As it stands now, China currently imposes the death penalty for 68 crimes. With today's proposed amendments, capital punishment will be eliminated for 13 non-violent, economy-related crimes including smuggling prohibited culture relics, precious metals and rare animals and their products out of China, carrying out fraud with the use of financial bills and carrying out fraud with the use of letters of credit. As well, teaching crime-commiting methods, falsely issuing VAT invoices to defraud export tax refunds, forging or selling false VAT invoices and robbing ancient cultural ruins are among other crimes that may be taken off the capital punishment table if the amendments are passed.

Back in May 2010, new rules were issued preventing the use of the death penalty in cases where evidence was obtained through the use of torture or threats.

As it stands now, the death penalty applies to all offenders of the 68 crimes except those under the age of 18 and women who are pregnant at the time of their hearing. New amendments would remove the application of the death penalty for persons aged 75 or over at the time a crime is committed; in its place, the guilty senior would be given a mitigated punishment. This change is rather moot since very few criminals over 75 years of age actually receive the death sentence.

To put these changes into perspective, let's take a quick look at China's record when it comes to applying the death penalty. According to Amnesty International, China's death penalty statistics are a state secret, however, according to their analysis, China remains the leading executioner in the world. Based on public reports, AI estimates that

" least 470 were executed and 1860 people were sentenced to death during 2007, although the true figures were believed to be much higher.".

To put these execution statistics into perspective, in 2007, the United States executed 42 inmates and it is estimated that Iran executed at least 317 people in that same year.

AI is concerned that many death penalty cases take place behind closed doors in spite of moves by the Supreme People's Court which stipulate that such cases must take place in open court. As well, AI states that confessions were often obtained through the use of torture and detainees were prevented from accessing lawyers. AI is urging Chinese authorities to release data on how many people they execute to back up China's claim that they have reduced the number of executions and death sentences.

On the other hand, wouldn't it be interesting to get the opinion of Americans and Canadians who held stock in Enron, Bre-X, Worldcom or Lehman Brothers or who did business with Bernie Madoff on the application of the death penalty for certain economic crimes? Please don't think that I'm advocating anything; I'm just suggesting that it would just be an interesting survey.


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