China out of step with trend against death penalty

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 12:00am

Against a clear global trend towards abolition of the death penalty, Asia and the Middle East lag behind the overwhelming majority of European, Latin American and now African countries.

Half of African countries no longer execute convicted prisoners. Globally, an average of three countries a year abolish capital punishment.

Of the 78 countries that retain the death penalty, 17 are in this region. China heads the list by executing more people than the rest of the world put together - and for a range of 68 crimes, including tax fraud, avoiding a Sars quarantine and killing pandas.

Singapore executes more people per head of population than anywhere else. Vietnam, like China, has chosen to make execution statistics a state secret. Many Asian countries have mandatory death sentences for crimes such as drug smuggling.

The death penalty is the ultimate in cruel, degrading and inhumane punishments. It has never been shown to deter crime more effectively than other penalties. On the other hand, many innocent people are known to have been put to death. A jail sentence at least offers the possibility that cases can be revisited and verdicts overturned.

The presidents of Malawi and Zambia have pledged not to sign execution orders while in office. Our leaders could learn from this. We hope that Asian and Middle Eastern countries, as well as the US, will join the trend to abolish the death penalty.

BELLA LUK, director, Amnesty International, Hong Kong

Shameful indifference

With all due respect to Tony Eason ('On the side of reason', May 17), there is a huge difference between Albert Cheng King-hon or Wong Yuk-man going off the air because of injury or threats of injury to family, and their simply deciding to retire.

He might reasonably celebrate the latter, but how can he seriously be indifferent to the former?

If a government minister left his job because he had been intimidated by triad thugs, we would all be quite worried. If a judge decided to cancel a hearing for the same reason, that would threaten us all. If Mr Eason were intimidated or had been attacked by a bullying neighbour, he would expect the police to take some interest, although he now has no public status.

Thus, even at the private, human, level, we should be concerned for Messrs Cheng and Wong. As they are public figures, who give powerful expression to what every taxi driver and the majority of citizens feel, it is shameful that Mr Eason is only looking forward to his next 'beer', and not striving in his retirement to protect the public interest as he did when in the government service.


A voter test

There is much call for democracy in Hong Kong.

But a democratic system can only be successful if the voters are mature and knowledgeable. How do we know that Hong Kong voters are mature? May I offer the following multiple-choice test to the would-be voter:

Hong Kong has a structural deficit of $50 billion a year. To help solve the deficit problem, I would vote for increasing taxes and increasing the tax base. Yes/no.

Pretend I am a civil servant. The private sector has had a minimum 30 per cent downward adjustment in salaries since 1998. As my salary has only been reduced by 5 per cent to 7.5 per cent since then, I volunteer to have my salary cut by another 10 per cent on top of the 3 per cent cut next year. Yes/no.

If Hong Kong voters cannot answer these two questions correctly, we are not ready for universal suffrage.

ALEX WOO, Tsim Sha Tsui

Behind the rail losses

That KCRC-West Rail is losing millions of dollars daily is no surprise to those who have travelled in half-full trains during rush hours and nearly empty ones during non-peak times.

Competition from other modes of transport is blamed for the disastrous result. However, this white elephant was actually born with Hong Kong's gradual shift to a planned economy after the handover. West Rail came side by side with the housing policy of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. West Rail would have been lucrative if the government had opened up corners of our territory to accommodate 85,000 new flats per year.

Unfortunately, in spite of the collapse of the property market in late 1997 and, unbeknown to us, the disappearance of that housing policy, the $46-billion project went ahead bravely the following year under the auspices of an administration which trusts itself more than the market. The worst is yet to come. KCRC will face a similar fiasco when Ma On Shan railway is completed late this year.

The only immediate effective way to control bleeding is to reduce competition from forms of transport that are preferred by commuters because they are more competitive in terms of travel time, convenience and price. In other words, we have two alternatives: incur a loss of millions of dollars daily or force commuters to take a less competitive form of transport.


The condom debate

The letter headlined 'Condoms: false claims' (May 16) is typical of a one- sided look at the global fight against HIV-Aids.

First, there is no doubt that condoms lower the risk of sexually transmitted diseases spreading. However, there is always the risk of transmission, either from improper use of condoms or if the condom is not manufactured properly. It would be dangerous to suggest that using a condom ensures complete protection.

I think that the only truly safe way for one to avoid sexually transmitted diseases is sexual abstinence. A monogamous relationship between two uninfected partners also lowers the risk, provided they stay faithful.

Also, sexual contact is not the only way to pass HIV-Aids. Drug users risk exposure if they share needles.


Stop showing abuses

After seeing, and reading articles on, the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners, the execution of Nick Berg and criticisms of American soldiers, I wish to express my feelings on these issues.

Perhaps making these photos public helps people to understand the real Americans and the cruelty of some Iraqis. However, it is time to stop showing these images. They only help us to rethink the issue of human rights. Otherwise, what's the point: to tell the next generation that humans are ugly and dirty?

The truth is that the kind of photos taken in the Iraqi prison are common in pornographic videos and magazines. The mass media and the public have exaggerated the images because they need a new way to criticise the Americans, the Iraqis and the war.


Poisoned food

After reading the article headlined 'Toxic chemicals sprayed on vegetables' (May 10), I think it is not strange that many Hong Kong people, including myself, have no confidence in products from the mainland, particularly food.

This article said workers in a factory in Chengdu were seen mixing massive amounts of the preservative, sodium benzoate, into vegetables. In addition, workers at a factory in Pengzhou sprayed inedible industrial salt on to cabbage. Furthermore, a food factory used pesticide containing a highly poisonous chemical, Didiwei.

These workers' consciences are dead. Contaminated vegetables can take many lives. Why aren't these workers more considerate? Don't they have family or friends?

The mainland's poorly monitored markets are to blame for such inhuman behaviour. The authorities are urged to take action to strengthen monitoring and regulatory procedures for food production.