Reductions considered for capital punishment

Updated: 2014-10-28 06:13

By AN BAIJIE in Beijing and CHEN WEIHUA in Washington(China Daily USA)

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China's top legislature is considering reducing by nine the number of crimes subject to the death penalty through revising the Criminal Law.

Among the nine crimes mentioned in a draft amendment being discussed at a session that started on Monday, five relate to economic misbehavior. They are smuggling weapons and ammunition, smuggling nuclear materials, smuggling fake banknotes, counterfeiting banknotes and collecting funds through fraud. The crimes of organizing prostitutes, forcing prostitution, hindering the enforcement of military duties, and spreading rumors during wartime would also not be subject to the death penalty, according to the draft.

Under the current law, 55 crimes are subject to the death penalty.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress is due to deliberate the bill during its bi-monthly session that ends from Saturday.

If prisoners sentenced to the death penalty with a reprieve are found to have "gravely" violated the law during the reprieve period, they could be executed after a review by the top court, according to the bill.

Under current rules, if prisoners given the death penalty with a reprieve are found to have violated the law during the reprieve period, whether the violation is grave or not, they can be executed after a review by the top court.

Under China's laws, all death penalties have to undergo a review by the Supreme People's Court, the top court.

There have been few cases involving any of the nine crimes resulting in the death penalty being handed down in recent years, said Li Shishi, director of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee.

After canceling the death penalty for the nine crimes, those who have gravely violated the rules could be sentenced to life imprisonment, Li told lawmakers on Monday.

The last time China reduced the number of crimes punishable by death was in 2011 when the legislature adopted an amendment to the Criminal Law, cutting the number of crimes subject to capital punishment by 13. That was the first reduction since the Criminal Law took effect in 1979.

Li said that after the reduction in 2011 that social order had not been affected significantly and positive comments had been made by the public about the revision.

He said the draft amendment under discussion has been drawn up to implement the reform blueprint released in November last year after a key meeting of the Communist Party of China.

A statement issued after the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee, the meeting that put forward the comprehensive reform package, said China would reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty "step by step".

Zhao Bingzhi, a professor of criminal law research at Beijing Normal University, said that reducing the number of crimes subject to capital punishment is a move to protect human rights, which is also the requirement of ongoing judicial reform.

More than 30 of the 55 crimes currently subject to the death penalty are related to non-violent or economic crimes, and many of these should be commuted gradually, he said.

In a seminar on death penalty last year, Zhao called on China to reduce the number of crimes punishable by death and abolish it in 2050, when the People's Republic celebrates its centennial, Caixin Media reported.

The death penalty has so far been abolished by 100 of the 195 independent states that are United Nations members or have UN observer status. Of the 95 states that still keep the death penalty, almost half have not used it for at least 10 years.

A survey conducted by the Germany-based Max Planck Institute in 2007-2008 showed that 57.8 percent of Chinese respondents supported the death penalty, 14 percent opposed it and 28 percent were undecided.

Crimes which deserve the death penalty, according to the poll, are murder, death caused by intentional injury, drug dealing, sexual abuse of girls under 14, terrorism and production of fake medicine.

The survey found that nearly 80 percent of Chinese respondents agree to the basic statement of retributive punishment that "people who take a life deserve to be punished by having their own life taken." It also found that about half the general population agreed that the scope of the death penalty should be limited to the most serious crimes.

High support for the death penalty among Chinese is not unique. A Gallup poll released last week showed that six in 10 Americans favor it for convicted murderers. The result was generally consistent with attitudes since 2008. Since 1937, Americans' support for capital punishment has been as low as 42 percent in 1966 and as high as 80 percent in 1994, according to the survey.