China Says Its Courts Will Be More Cautious With Death Penalty

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In a joint statement released on Sunday, the top legal bodies of the People’s Republic of China have declared that the country should "gradually reduce" the number of executions it carries out, and should be a little more careful in deciding who gets whacked.

The additional caution might just make a difference, given that, according to Amnesty International, China executed at least 1,770 people in 2005 — 80 percent of all the known executions in the world that year — and the real number may be as high as 10,000.  While I have my calculator out, the higher number would mean one less alleged felon every 52 minutes, during which time another 692 new Chinese would be born, plus another one just over halfway out, and now it is time to put my calculator away.

This new concern for civil rights comes after a series of high-profile cases that have somewhat embarrassed the regime, which may or may not have anything to do with the upcoming Olympics.  In one famous case, a man was convicted of killing a woman in the 1980s in Hunan province after he allegedly confessed to the murder, and was executed.  She inconveniently showed up in 2005, unmurdered.

Hence, an increased concern in China today about executions — at least to some degree.  "Our country still cannot abolish the death penalty," the statement said, although the day when it can is probably just around the corner, "but should gradually reduce its application."  For example, it continued, "where there is a possibility someone should not be executed, then without exception the person should not be killed."  That ought to have Amnesty International breaking out the noisemakers.

In two other radical changes, the authorities also suggested that, in the future, suspects should not be tortured into making confessions, and condemned prisoners should not be paraded through the streets before being executed.  That last one should come as a relief, since parades can get exhausting when you have to have one every 52 minutes.

Link: AP via