China urged to take steps to end death penalty

Anti-death penalty campaigners have urged Chinese legislators to take “concrete steps” towards abolishing the death penalty.

The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) and Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) published an open letter on Wednesday directed at China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) meeting on 5 March.

“With less than six months until the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games, we consider the use of the death penalty in China as incompatible with core principles of the Olympic Charter, which aims at promoting ‘a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,’” WCADP and ADPAN said in the letter.

National statistics on executions remain classified as a state secret in China. Thousands of people are estimated to be sentenced to death and executed each year in the country. There are also regular reports of what are believed to be miscarriages of justice after hasty and unfair trials and widespread use of torture to extract confessions.

The Chinese authorities recently introduced reforms requiring the Supreme Court to review all death penalty sentences. The reforms are aimed at reducing the number of executions, preventing miscarriages of justice and ensuring more even sentencing throughout the country.

Welcoming these reforms, WCADP and ADPAN have emphasized that the impact of such reforms can only be assessed through transparency. WCAPD and ADPAN are asking for the veil of state secrecy to be lifted and the publication of full national statistics on the death penalty.

The death penalty still applies to around 68 crimes in China, including non-violent crimes. There is a growing debate in China about reducing this large number. In the letter, the anti-death penalty groups have urged the NPC to eliminate the death penalty for non-violent crimes, such as economic and drug-related offences.

There is now a clear and global trend moving away from use of the death penalty: On 18 December 2007 the United Nations General Assembly adopted, by 104 votes in favour, a resolution calling for a moratorium on executions.

 “A positive legacy for the Beijing Olympics can only be achieved when China’s world record of executions comes to an end,” said WCADP and ADPAN.