Amnesty criticises widespread use of capital punishment

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 March, 2009, 12:00am

China led the world in executions last year, carrying out 1,718 death sentences, or 72 per cent of the world's total, human rights group Amnesty International says.

The group said the real figure could be much higher because the total was considered a state secret.

A Hong Kong-based expert in mainland law said the figure was about the same as the previous year's and that he expected fewer people to be executed this year because of the central government's stress on 'social harmony'.

Amnesty International said yesterday that China had surpassed Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States in putting people to death, and that most defendants were not given fair trials.

'In most cases, defendants are convicted without sufficient evidence and are not allowed to call witnesses in the court,' campaign manager Clara Law Ying-tsz said.

To cut down on wrongful executions, the Supreme People's Court reclaimed the right to issue death sentences from provincial courts in 2007.

According to a Xinhua report last year, a Supreme Court spokesman said 15 per cent of death sentences were revoked in 2007.

Various provinces have replaced death by gunshot with lethal injection, but the group's Asia-Pacific programme deputy director, Roseann Rife, said this did not represent an improvement.

'There is no humane way to kill someone,' she said. 'China should cut down the number of crimes subject to death penalty.' China classifies 68 crimes, from tomb raiding to spying, as capital offences.

Fujian native and Hong Kong citizen Zhuo Xiaohong, whose brother Xiaojun was executed in December after 19 years in jail and five trials and appeals, said she hoped the death penalty would be abolished.

Ms Zhuo said her brother had been wrongly accused of killing two people in a brawl when he returned to his hometown of Fuzhou for his wedding in 1989.

'Officials and villagers proved that Xiaojun was innocent, but he was still considered a criminal because one villager claimed he killed the victims with a knife,' Ms Zhuo said. 'That sole witness testified three times but his statements were not consistent. If there was no death penalty, my brother could still wait for the day to be proven innocent and everyone, including the judges, would have a chance to correct their mistakes.'

An official in the Supreme People's Court's news office declined to comment on the report, as did Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang.