Family issues first HK plea to spare a life since mainland's top court took over death penalty reviews The family of a Hong Kong man sentenced to death on the mainland for drug trafficking has issued the first petition for leniency from the city since tighter death penalty laws came into effect this year. Chu Pui-lam, 34, was arrested by Public Security Bureau officials in Shenzhen on April 23, 2005, with his wife and eight others - four men and four women. The women were released soon afterwards but the five men were eventually charged with trafficking 7kg of cocaine. Three of them, including Chu - a truck driver and father of one, who used to live in Sheung Shui - were sentenced to death by an intermediate court in Guangdong last April. An appeal lodged by the families of the defendants to the Guangdong Supreme People's Court led to the death sentences of two defendants being commuted. Chu's appeal was rejected, but his wife and mother are pinning their hopes on the recently passed amendment to the death penalty law that centralises the power to mete out death sentences. Late last year, the mainland legislature approved a law that essentially gave back to the country's top court the right to approve or review death sentences. That right was passed from the Supreme People's Court to provincial courts in 1983. The change means all death sentences will have to be scrutinised in Beijing, whereas previously lower provincial courts had the final say. It follows a national debate about concerns that death sentences were been handed out too readily. 'I really don't have that much hope for my husband any more,' said Chu's wife, Wong Kwan-ho, 35. 'But I would be grateful if he didn't have to die.' Ms Wong and her mother-in-law have met representatives from the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong and written to the Supreme Court in Beijing to plead for Chu's life. They received a reply on January 19 stating they would be told if the sentence was commuted. Ms Wong says her husband was simply a middleman who worked the phones and was unaware that drugs were switching hands. 'Even if he got eight to 10 years in prison, I still don't think he deserves it because I think he is innocent, but this would be better. 'Over the last two years, I've basically been unable to work because I have been so busy trying to keep him alive,' said Ms Wong, who lives in a public housing estate in Kwai Fong and until recently was on the dole. The fight has taken its toll on Chu's wife. She is taking anti-depressants and sleeping pills. Their daughter, a Primary One pupil, has seen her grades tumble. Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, associate dean of the law school at City University, said Hongkongers who were sentenced to death on the mainland had a better chance of having their punishment commuted by the national court. She said the national court was likely take a more restrictive stance on approving death sentences on people who came from places, like Hong Kong, where capital punishment does not exist. Death sentences for economic crimes are also more likely to be put under increasing scrutiny, but not those for violent crimes or drug trafficking, Professor Leung said. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International estimates that in 2005, the authorities carried out about 1,770 executions and sentenced nearly 4,000 people to death.