China's death penalty - Manila Standard Today -- A dead end -- 2011/december/3

Manila Standard Today -- A dead end -- 2011/december/3

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Death for the “extremely vile”

In 2007, China initiated a review of every capital case before its Supreme People’s Court. The then Court President, Xiao Yang, vowed that capital punishment would be rendered only to “extremely vile criminals.”

In another bid to “humanize” its justice system, it also announced in 2010 that the Chinese National People’s Congress will consider proposals to reduce the number of crimes punishable by death under its laws.

So much, however, is China’s seeming aversion towards drug-related offenses that it remains a capital offense perpetrated only by “extremely vile criminals.”

The only consolation for current death convicts is that since 2009, the People’s Supreme Court has started to abandon execution by bullet to the back of the head in favor of lethal injection. Filipinos Credo, Villanueva, and Batain, were “beneficiaries” of this more “humane” administration of death.

In 1997, China became only the second country after the United States to administer lethal injections. Its 1996 criminal laws still provide that death penalty could be executed through either “shooting or injection” but trends towards providing criminals with “decent deaths” now see the State veering towards lethal injection.

But still so different is Chinese legal culture from that of the Philippines that while the latter’s notion of “justice on wheels” consists of on-the-spot adjudication, mediation, and conciliation aboard buses, China’s is construed to mean execution aboard buses turned makeshift execution chambers. During the late 90s, these buses were distributed to various Chinese provinces. Aboard them, executions were done efficiently and expeditiously by lethal injection.

“Pragmatic” executions

Injection as the preferred method of execution has also garnered support in the succeeding decades for reasons more “pragmatic” than “moral.”

The Beijing News reported in 2008 that according to China’s foremost expert on death penalty laws, Liu Renwen, executions by lethal injection is more “cost efficient” than firing squad—the latter costing 700 yuan or about US$ 100, while the former, less than half that at only 300 yuan.

Still, another consideration is the risk of “cleaning up” after execution by firing squad. According to Kunming Intermediate People’s Court Forensic Division director Wang Jun, about 20 percent of heroin addicts condemned in Yunnan province share needles and are infected with HIV.

Human rights organization Dui Hua Foundation theorizes that lethal injection better preserves internal organs for donation. In 2009, the China Daily reported that 65 percent of organ transplants originating from China were sourced through executed convicts—“voluntary donors,” the paper wrote.

The same human rights group also confirmed the perception that China executes more prisoners annually than all other countries combined. According to Dui Hua, China executed anywhere from 5000 to 6000 prisoner in 2007 compared to the United State’s 42 in the same year—per capita, 30 times the number of executions in the US.

Amnesty International’s 2011 report tallied a minimum of 527 executions worldwide in 2010. Still, “this figure does not include the thousands of executions that were believed to be carried out in China last year,” said the report.

China’s seeming lack of transparency may be diametrically opposed to the Philippines’ westernized notion of laws and governance, but it is not exactly one of its kind in the world, especially as far as Asia is concerned.

“In Belarus, China and Mongolia the death penalty continued to be classified as a ‘state secret’. Little information was available for Malaysia, North Korea and Singapore. In Viet Nam, publishing figures on the use of the death penalty is prohibited by law. In several countries—including Belarus, Botswana, Egypt and Japan—death row inmates are not informed of their forthcoming execution, nor are their families or lawyers. In Belarus, Botswana and Viet Nam the bodies of the executed prisoners are not returned to their families for burial,” wrote the Amnesty International.

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