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December 13, 2011

Should we celebrate news that the number of executions in China has decreased dramatically in recent years?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this news report headlined "China halves executions to about 4,000 a year: NGO." Here are the new data from the article:

China has halved its executions since 2007, when its high court began reviewing death row cases, but still puts around 4,000 people to death every year, a US campaign group said on Tuesday.   The exact number of people executed in China every year is a state secret, but according to Amnesty International, the country puts more people to death than the rest of the world put together.

The rare data, compiled by San Francisco-based campaign group Dui Hua, is partly based on a claim by a Chinese legal scholar at the quasi-governmental think tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, that executions have been halved.  It comes in the same week China executed a South African woman by lethal injection for drug smuggling after rejecting last-minute pleas for clemency from her government.

Dui Hua executive director John Kamm said the figure, which is nearly eight times the 527 Amnesty International says were executed outside China in 2010 -- was still far too high. "China has made dramatic progress in reducing the number of executions, but the number is still far too high and declining far too slowly," he said....

Beijing has taken measures in recent years to rein in the use of capital punishment, including requiring the country's supreme court to review all such sentences before they are carried out. Most executions are imposed for violent crimes such as murder and robbery, state media have said, but drug trafficking and some corruption cases are also punishable by death.

Earlier this year, China eliminated capital punishment for some economic crimes, including tax fraud, as it moved to curb use of the death penalty.   The amendment, which took effect on May 1, also exempted from capital punishment anyone over the age of 75 at the time of trial, unless they had committed murder "with exceptional cruelty".   Previously, only convicts younger than 18 or pregnant at the time of trial were exempt.

Executions in China have traditionally been carried out by shooting, but lethal injections are increasingly being used.

I am never sure how to react to stories about the administration of capital punishment in other countries, so I am eager to hear reader reactions to this news.  I am especially curious to hear if ardent supports of the death penalty in the United States are worried about the endurance of this punishment if (and when?) other countries with a local capital punishment record start moving away from this death as a sanction.

December 13, 2011 at 07:59 AM | Permalink


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Surely celebrate if the lives of innocent people are saved.

Surely mourn if murderers are absolved of their due punishment and their victims thusly denied justice.

Posted by: Adamakis | Dec 13, 2011 9:48:51 AM

Almost ten years ago, I was part of an American delegation meeting with Chinese judges. The death penalty was discussed at length, where we learned that their perspective was that it was more humane than life without parole, which (given the nature of their prisons) they considered cruel.

The difference in perspective largely came from their different view of human life. China, being so highly populated, accepted the loss of life as more of a happenstance than human tragedy. They realized we didn't see it the same at all, and thought us naive. They noted that we weren't bothered by people being killed in car crashes, but went crazy about capital punishment.

Nothing was resolved, though I learned that once we got past the language barrier, they had fabulous senses of humor and told great stories, just like lawyers everywhere. We just viewed the value of life very differently.

Posted by: shg | Dec 13, 2011 12:20:17 PM

Ironic: Chinese Commie lawyers had not discovered rent seeking in DP appellate business. It appears they may have recently.

We have discussed the cruelty of LWOP to both inmate and future inmate victims. Chinese lawyers, not mentally crippled by the American law education recognize the self-evident. Very good. But, in the US government lawyer welfare comes first, no matter how cruel.

With a 20,000 character alphabet, what is it like to take a Mandarin Chinese bar exam?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 13, 2011 3:20:38 PM

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