PUBLIC AI Index: ASA 17/40/98
4 December 1998
Further information on EXTRA 78/98 (ASA 17/35/98, 21 October 1998) -
Death penalty / Fear of imminent execution
PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA Cheung Tze-keung, aged 45, Hong Kong citizen
New names: Chan Chi-hou, aged 36, Hong Kong citizen
Chin Hon-sau, aged 43, Hong Kong citizen
Ma Shangzhong, aged 33, Chinese citizen
Liang Hui, aged 32, Chinese citizen
On 7 December 1998, Guangdong Higher People’s Court is expected to rule on
the above defendants’ appeals against their death sentences. As successful
appeals are rare, Amnesty International fears they face imminent execution.
The men were sentenced to death by the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court
on 12 November after a trial involving 29 other people, including 13 Hong Kong
Cheung Tze-keung and Chin Hon-sau were sentenced to death for illegally trading
in explosives. Chan Chi-hou, Ma Shangzhong and Liang Hui were sentenced to
death for their roles in a robbery in Shenzhen during which a businessman was
abducted and suffocated to death. Two other Hong Kong citizens, Chu Yuk-sing
and Li Wan were sentenced to death with a two year reprieve for robbing Hong
Kong jewellery stores. All were also sentenced to prison terms for kidnapping
in Hong Kong or smuggling, trading or storing weapons.
The Hong Kong authorities have said they did not press for the defendants to
be returned to Hong Kong because they have no formal agreement with China on
the return of fugitives or prisoners and did not have enough evidence to
prosecute in Hong Kong.
The handling of the case has provoked great controversy in Hong Kong and has
been criticized for undermining its judicial autonomy under the “one country
two systems” principle. The debate hinges on the dubious assertions by the
Guangdong court and the Hong Kong government that trial in China under the
Chinese Criminal Code is appropriate for all these cases, even though some
of the alleged crimes took place in Hong Kong where there is no death penalty.
Little reliable evidence has reportedly been presented to prove that all the
crimes were ‘plotted planned and prepared’ on the mainland and therefore can
be tried on the mainland.
For example, Cheung Tze-keung is the alleged major culprit who supposedly
organized and planned the illegal purchase of explosives, although he did not
buy or smuggle them on the mainland. In court, evidence of his leading role
was limited to a wish he expressed for explosives during a conversation with
a co-defendant in Macau, his participation in off loading the shipment in Hong
Kong, and a regular payment to a co-defendant from Hong Kong.
A Hong Kong government official has reportedly acknowledged that much of the
evidence presented at the trial would be inadmissible in Hong Kong. Defendants
statements were reportedly the major source of the prosecution’s evidence.
Even though under China’s Criminal Procedure Law (article 46) no one can “be
found guilty...if there is only his statement but no evidence”, key facts,