Capital Punshiment in China

Published on 2014 - 03 - 23

China continued to account for the majority of the world’s executions, but the lack of transparency surrounding the use of the death penalty in the country made it, once again, impossible to confirm figures that would adequately represent the reality of capital punishment in the country. State-owned media continued to cover high-profile cases, such as that of business woman Wu Ying who had been sentenced to death for “fraudulently raisingfunds”, but did not provide the much needed information to promote a meaningful debate on capital punishment in the country. Claims by officials from the Supreme People’s Court that the total number of executions has more than halved since the court resumed reviewing all death sentences in 2007 have yet to be proven.

Death sentences continued to be imposed after unfair trials and for offences, such as drug-trafficking or financial crimes, that did not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes”, in line with Article 6 of the ICCPR. No procedures for death row prisoners to seek pardon or commutation of their sentence were established under national legislation.

Robert Shan Shiao-may of Hong Kong, and Lien Sung-ching of Taiwan, were executed in mainland China on 30 March after the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing approved their death sentences.

Robert Shan Shiao-may, aged 54, was sentenced to death on 26 June 2009 for drug-trafficking, illegal possession of drugs and illegal possession of a firearm. Lien Sung-ching, aged 59, was sentenced to death at the same trial on charges of producing and trafficking drugs. The Guangdong Provincial Higher People’s Court in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, rejected their appeals in December 2010. In December 2005, Hong Kong police officers, tipped off by the mainland authorities, had detained two containers at a shipping terminal that supposedly contained drugs and were bound for Manila. However, a senior inspector in Hong Kong's narcotics bureau later wrote to relatives of Lien Sung-ching saying that no drugs had been found and that the containers had been sent back to the company that owned them.

Guangdong public security agents had arrested both men in December 2005 and accused them of sending 192kg of crystal methamphetamine to the Philippines from the mainland via Hong Kong. During the appeal, the Guangdong Provincial People’s Court rejected the letter because it did not have an official police stamp and because Hong Kong police later said the letter had been written in error. The police force apologized to family members of the defendants. However, the letter raised serious doubts as to the evidence used to convict the men of drug trafficking.On 11 June China’s State Council Information Office published the National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2012-2015). The plan includes measures aimed at strengthening safeguards in all capital cases, such as: opening trial proceedings in appeal courts to the public; allowing for the examination of the defendant, giving the defendant’s attorney the chance to express his or her opinion; and publishing key judgements from the Supreme People’s Court with a view to clarifying norms of the application of the death penalty.

Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law that were approved by the National People's Congress on 14 March (entering into force on 1 January 2013) would allow the Supreme People’s Court to amend death sentences in all cases. The amendments would make it mandatory to record or videotape interrogations of suspects potentially facing the death penalty or life imprisonment. They would require the courts, prosecutors and the police to notify legal aid offices to assign a defence lawyer to all criminal suspects and defendants who face potential death sentences or life imprisonment and who have not yet appointed legal counsel. However, there is no concomitant responsibility of the legal aid organizations torespond, nor is there a time frame for the compliance of the organizations stipulated in the amended law. Legal scholars within China have called for greater clarification to establish beyond doubt in the law that legally aided defence is available at all stages of the process in capital cases. They have also called for clearer delineation of the role and responsibility of defence lawyers in the appeal and final review process.

In November, the authorities announced that a voluntary organ donation system would be launched nationwide in early 2013 to phase out reliance on organs removed from executed prisoners.