China’s top judge calls for fewer executions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 3:56pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 4:01pm

China’s top judicial official, Zhou Qiang, called on courts to “dare to stick to the truth” at a seminar in Beijing on Monday.

The president of the Supreme People’s Court also urged courts to hand out fewer death sentences.

Courts “have to follow the standard set by the Supreme People’s Court, severely control and prudently apply the death sentence,” Zhou said.

Since 2006, the Supreme People’s Court has reviewed every death sentence before it is carried out. China does not say how many people are executed in the country every year, but Amnesty International estimates China to be the world’s largest executioner with thousands of death sentences carried out last year.

Court leaders at all levels should dare to stick to principles and handle matters according to the law
Zhou Qiang

The debate about the death penalty has returned to prominence with the execution of Xia Junfeng last month. The Shenyang street hawker stabbed two urban management officers to death in 2009 after they had beaten him. Supporters argued he acted in self-defence and questioned the selective choice of testimony allowed by the court which eventually convicted him.

“Court leaders at all levels should dare to stick to principles, dare to stick to the truth, dare to handle matters according to the law,” Zhou Qiang said on Monday. “Higher-level courts should assist lower-level courts in handling cases fairly.”

Zhou’s comments at the sixth national criminal justice work conference on Monday were only reported by China News Service, a national news agency, on Tuesday.

As one of China’s first law graduates after the Cultural Revolution and a former Ministry of Justice official, Zhou had raised hopes of advancing the rule of law in the new administration after reforms stagnated under his predecessor Wang Shengjun. When Wang’s tenure ended earlier this year, National People’s Congress delegates gave the court’s annual work report their lowest approval rate in six years.

Zhou has started his tenure by pushing for new measures that would guarantee more rights for defence lawyers. His first months in office have also seen the correction of a series of miscarriages of justice. In April, his deputy Shen Deyong said he preferred allowing a criminal to walk free to an innocent person being wrongfully convicted.

Zhou also called on courts to allow more reporting of court cases of public interest in traditional media and microblogs. Former Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai’s court trial was covered live in August on the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court’s Sina Weibo microblog. A glitch by the court revealed, however, that the coverage had been redacted.