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China’s decreasing death penalty rate

BEIJING (SE): China has often been the butt of criticism for its extremely high rate of executions, but Shan Yuxiao and Li Rongde reported in Caixin Online that a legal forum in Beijing on September 8 heard that numbers for last year show it has fallen by more than 60 per cent from the 10,000 annually recorded almost a decade ago.

The two said that the reduction in numbers has been spearheaded by a 2006 decision of the Supreme People’s Court to introduce a system through which the court reviews capital-punishment sentences before executions can take place.

Although no official figures on the number of executions performed in the country each year are released, Chen Guangzhong, from the China University of Political Sciences and Law, told the forum that according to official information he obtained, the number of executions has declined significantly since 2006.

Min Chunlei, from Jilin University, said court officials had told him that executions had fallen by about 60 per cent since the Supreme Court decision.

China is among only a handful of countries in which a wide variety of crimes—including murder, drug trafficking and organised crime—are punishable by death. 

But international pressure has been mounting on China to scrap or at least scale down the use of the death penalty.

In addition, the wide use of the death penalty has been cited by courts in other countries to block the extradition of Chinese citizens to face corruption charges at home.

Chen and Min said that by playing a central role in death penalty reform, the court has helped cut execution totals.

Yet some experts at the forum noted the Supreme Court’s system for handling death sentence requests from lower courts lacks transparency. This has led to a call to the top court to allow lawyers and prosecutors to play a role in death sentence verification proceedings in order to add credibility to its proceedings.

Experts said that in the future, a special judicial system for reviewing death sentences should be established. Such systems can be found in several countries, including the United States of America.

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