VARIOUS: Amnesty International releases new report saying death penalty is increasingly abolished worldwide; and...
- Title: VARIOUS: Amnesty International releases new report saying death penalty is increasingly abolished worldwide; and calls on China, which has the most executions to release official figures
- Date: 29th March 2011
- Summary: BEIJING, CHINA (FILE - MARCH 2011) (REUTERS) FLAGPOLE ON TIANANMEN SQUARE GUARD STANDING IN FRONT OF PORTRAIT OF FORMER CHINESE CHAIRMAN MAO ZEDONG BEIJING, CHINA (MARCH 24, 2011) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF SUPREME PEOPLE'S COURT CHINESE NATIONAL FLAG FLYING BEIJING, CHINA (MARCH 25, 2011) (REUTERS) ATTORNEY-AT-LAW FOR MOSHAOPING LAW FIRM, DING XIKUI, READING COPY OF AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL DEATH PENALTY REPORT DING'S FACE TEXT READING 'CHINA EXECUTED 1000S - MORE PEOPLE THAN THE REST OF THE WORLD PUT TOGETHER' (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) ATTORNEY-AT-LAW FOR MOSHAOPING LAW FIRM, DING XIKUI, SAYING: "There is often pressure from the media, there is pressure from the public, and even pressure from higher government organisations. In this situation they perhaps might just sentence someone. There is this kind of abuse. What is missing are standards in the legal system."
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- Topics: International Relations
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- Story Text: Countries which use the death penalty are increasingly left isolated and China executes more people than the rest of the world put together, according to Amnesty International's annual death penalty report released on Monday (March 28).
But there has been a decade of progress, the report said, with 31 countries abolishing the death penalty in law or in practice in the past ten years.
"We absolutely believe that it is an unmistakable trend towards abolition. That is the goal, the United Nations has come out and said that that is the goal, and many many countries are adopting it. I think it's just a matter of time and increasingly the countries who haven't abolished the death penalty are going to stand out as obstructionist towards that goal," said report author Roseann Rife.
Amnesty said that China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United States remain amongst the most frequent executioners.
The total number of executions officially recorded by Amnesty in 2010 were down from at least 714 in 2009 to at least 527 last year.
China is believed to have executed several thousand in 2010, more than the rest of the world put together, but Amnesty does not give an exact figure as it says Beijing continues to maintain secrecy over its use of the death penalty.
Rife said China had made some progress in recent years, especially earlier this year when it reduced the number of crimes punishable by the death by 13 to 55, though she said it was unclear whether it would reduce the number of executions.
"A lot of those crimes that were cut were sort of economic crimes or white collar crimes if you will, that we hadn't seen, we hadn't recorded executions for those crimes recently in China. So we really don't know if that is going to have an impact on the use of the death sentence in China. What we've continuously been calling on and even more so in the last two years is for China to publicly release those figures," Rife said.
In January 2007, the Supreme People's Court regained the power of final approval of death penalties, devolved to provincial high courts in the 1980s, which Chinese experts say may have decreased the number of executions.
Experts also say the country increasingly chooses to issue capital punishment with a two-year reprieve, which is often commuted to life in prison.
Ding Xikui (pron: ding shee-kway), a Beijing-based rights lawyer, does not think the death penalty should be abolished at this stage but believes that China's judicial system, which is not independent enough from the government, was too open to outside influence, meaning the death penalty was sometimes misused.
"There is often pressure from the media, there is pressure from the public, and even pressure from higher government organisations. In this situation they perhaps might just sentence someone. There is this kind of abuse. What is missing are standards in the legal system," Ding said.
China's use of the death penalty has hit international headlines in recent years with the execution of foreign nationals for drug trafficking.
In December 2009, China executed 53 year-old Briton Akmal Shaikh, for drug smuggling, despite appeals from Britain. An anti-death penalty organisation argued that he suffered from mental illness, and was exploited by drug traffickers, but the Chinese government denied a request for psychiatric evaluation. Activists slammed China for lack of due process.
Last Friday (March 25), the Philippine government and families continued their appeal to China to grant clemency to three Filipinos set to be executed on March 30.
Elizabeth Batain, Sally Villanueva and Ramon Credo were arrested separately in 2008 for bringing 4-6 kilograms of heroin into China.
They were initially scheduled to be executed last February, but China delayed the execution after the Philippine vice president visited Beijing and made an appeal.
On March 23, the Department of Foreign Affairs announced that the death penalty for the three will push through.
Ordinary Chinese citizens support keeping capital punishment, though many say they would like to see it used sparingly.
"I think the death penalty is necessary because as a form of punishment it scares people who might do bad things or commit crimes, and in this way it might decrease the number of crimes," said 20 year-old student Zhu (pron: jooh).
"I believe that as humanity progresses, people will become more and more civilised, and this kind of law will disappear naturally, not by force," said student Yang.
In July 2010, China executed Wen Qiang, the former chief justice of the country's central Chongqing municipality, on charges of bribery, shielding criminal gangs and rape.
Wen's execution, which was at the centre of a widely publicised crackdown on the city's mafia, garnered huge support from a public angered by rampant corruption and abuse of official power.
China's state-run television network CCTV often broadcasts the trials of criminals on death row, especially in cases of political significance.
China sentenced at least 26 people to death following bloody ethnic violence in the far northwestern predominantly - Muslim Xinjiang (pron: sin-jeeang) region.
At least nine of the suspects, who names suggested they were from the Uighur ethnic group, have been executed.
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