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China death penalty rates 'shockingly high', says Amnesty

© ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP | In this photo taken on April 10, 2017, Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International and Amnesty East Asia regional director, speaks during a media briefing on the death penalty in China, at the Foreign Correspondents' Club, Hong Kong

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-04-11

China executed more people last year than the rest of the world combined - many of them among the country’s poorest - even as global death penalty rates declined, a leading human rights group said Tuesday.

Amnesty International said China’s death penalty is "shockingly high" when compared to the number of executions globally (excluding China), which fell to 1,032 in 23 countries in 2016 and 1,634 in 25 countries in 2015.

The precise number of people executed in China remains unknown because the government considers it a state secret.

However, the human rights group Dui Hua estimates that approximately 2,000 executions took place in China last year, down from 6,500 a decade ago, said the group's executive director, John Kamm.


Under President Xi Jinping's much-hyped crackdown on corruption, many high-ranking figures have been sent to jail, but their death sentences have been commuted.

While the number of crimes in China that carry a death sentence include treason, separatism, spying, arson, murder, rape, robbery and human trafficking; Chinese legal scholar Hong Daode states that up to 90 percent of executions were for homicide in 2016.

"There has been a long tradition in China that the one that has taken people's lives should pay with his own life," said Hong, a professor of criminal law at China University of Political Science and Law.

But Amnesty’s report painted a different picture claiming farmers were more frequently sentenced to death than any other group in China.

The claim is backed up by Susan Trevaskes of Australia's Griffith University and author of the 2012 book "The Death Penalty in Contemporary China." In a recent study, she concluded that close to half of all death sentences in China were handed down for drug crimes, many perpetrated by poor, rural residents.

Trevaskes says they act as low-level “mules", hired by traffickers to transport illicit contraband but who reap minimal profit from the work.

As other countries shift away from capital punishment, China increasingly is seen as an outlier, said Amnesty International East Asia Director Nicholas Bequelin.

Government officials did not immediately comment on Amnesty's report. But China's chief justice, Zhou Qiang, told the national legislature last month that over the past decade executions were limited to "an extremely small number of criminals for extremely serious offenses”.

China has faced longstanding pressure from the international community to curb its use of the death penalty. The nation also has faced criticism for harvesting organs from executed inmates, including for sale to patients from overseas.

Dui Hua's Kamm said the number of executions in China remains a national embarrassment.

"Pushing for the Chinese government to release the number is perhaps the most effective way to drive it down," he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

Date created : 2017-04-11

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