Thursday, September 29, 2005

Concerns Grow Over Executions in China

Use of the death penalty in China has become, in the words of one news service, "rapid and highly efficient."

China executes more people than all the other countries in the world combined, some 10,000 a year as estimated by Amnesty International. China executes people for 68 offenses, including smuggling, tax evasion, corruption, "endangering national security" and separatism.

In one recent case a 20 year old boy was convicted after a 2 hour trial and killed a few months later. Some trials last less than an hour. One accused murderer was convicted, had his appeal denied and was executed within 24 days.

Appeals are rarely successful because they are heard in the same court that issued the original sentence. Legal aid is rare; even those defendants able to afford lawyers aren't allowed to meet with them until after police interrogation. Lawyers say that defending their client too effectively can get them arrested, harrassed or disbarred.

International criticism is bringing some reform. Recently government media reported that the Supreme People's Court would regain the authority it lost in 1983 to oversee capital cases. The nation's highest court is adding three criminal trial courts to handle death penalty review cases.

State-controlled media have also started publicizing more embarrassing cases. In June, newspapers reported that a farmer in the central province of Hubei who, after 10 days of nonstop interrogation, confessed to killing his wife, had to be released when she showed up alive.

However, Beijing has made it clear that death penalty limits would only go so far. Corruption, bribery and national security violations would remain capital offenses. Very likely, many innocent people will continue to be killed.

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