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Capital punishment in 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 more people annually than any other nation, although other countries (such as Iran or Singapore) have higher execution rates per capita. 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. [1]

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



Compared to other countries, death sentences are carried out quickly in China.[citation needed] 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, the New China News Agency 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]

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 jǐnɡ) assumed this role.

China currently uses two methods of execution. The most common is execution by firearms, which uses an assault rifle to fire a single shot of an expanding hollow point bullet to the head.[citation needed] Lethal injection was introduced in 1997. It differs from its application in the U.S. in that it is carried out in fixed locations as well as in specially modified mobile execution vans. As lethal injection becomes more common, debate has intensified over the fairness of relying on lethal injection to execute high officials convicted of corruption while ordinary criminals get executed by firearms. It is public opinion in China that lethal injection is an easier way for the condemned to die.

In the 1950s, the government collected a "bullet fee" (子弹费) from the relatives of the condemned.[4]

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. [5]

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.

Crimes punishable by death

Four Sanlu Group executives (wearing yellow prison jackets) in court over the milk scandal in 2008. Two were given the death penalty and one a suspended death sentence, and the fourth received an extended prison term.

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.[citation needed] Economic crimes such as tax fraud have appeared routinely among the dockets of those receiving the death sentence, as have relatively small-scale drug offenses. Capital punishment in China can be imposed on crimes against national symbols and treasures, such as theft of cultural relics and the killing of pandas[citation needed]. Corruption, property crimes such as theft, and smuggling gold, silver or other precious metals are also amongst the 68 crimes that are eligible for the death penalty in China.

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. 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.[6]

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 or politically embarrassing 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[7]. 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, based on all information available. Amnesty International claimed that the figure was likely to be much higher.[8]

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[citation needed] than in other states with developed[citation needed] judicial systems based on liberal principles.[citation needed]

Execution of foreigners

Foreigners are not exempted from the death penalty in China. However, executions of foreigners 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 4kg (8.8lb) of heroin into China. The Chinese criminal code automatically stipulates a mandatory death sentence for smuggling heroin[9] in quantities more than 50 grams. The execution was carried out despite appeals for clemency, from the United Kingdom government and the UN, and claims that he was mentally ill, suffering from a bipolar disorder[10][11] [12] [13] [14].

Akmal Shaikh was executed after pleas for clemency by the British Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivan Lewis 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 [15].

Until this case, the last European to have been executed in China was Antonio Riva, an Italian citizen and former pilot. He was executed by a firing squad 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[16].

See also


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