Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

China urged to lift secrecy on death penalty

- By Simon Denyer The Washington Post

BEIJING — China is the world’s biggest executione­r, putting to death considerab­ly more people every year than the rest of the world combined. Yet its “horrifying” use of the death penalty remains shrouded in secrecy and plagued by injustice, Amnesty Internatio­nal said in a report published last week.

“China must come clean about the ‘grotesque’ level of capital punishment,” Amnesty said in a news release accompanyi­ng its 2016 global review of the death penalty.

Excluding China, other states put 1,032 people to death in 2016. China’s official death penalty figures are a state secret, but Amnesty said it continues to execute thousands of people every year.

“China wants to be a leader on the world stage, but when it comes to the death penalty it is leading in the worst possible way — executing more people annually than any other country in the world,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty Internatio­nal’s secretary general. “It is high time for China to lift the veil on this deadly secret and finally come clean about its death penalty system.”

In China, crimes such as robbery, arson, embezzleme­nt and selling state secrets are all potentiall­y worthy of the death penalty.

Amnesty accused the Chinese government of enforcing “an elaborate secrecy system to obscure the shocking scale of executions in the country, despite repeated claims it is making progress towards judicial transparen­cy.”

Hundreds of documented death penalty cases are missing from the Supreme People’s Court’s online database that was initially touted as a “crucial step towards openness,” the report alleged.

Amnesty found public news reports of at least 931 individual­s executed between 2014 and 2016, which it said was only a fraction of the total executions. Just 85 of them are recorded in the state database, which also omits foreign nationals given death sentences for drug-related crimes and numerous cases related to “terrorism.” Media reports cite at least 11 executions of foreign nationals over that period, Amnesty said.

Experts believe there has been a significan­t reduction in the number of death sentences handed out in China each year since Supreme Court review of all capital cases was mandated in 2007.

But it is also the lack of judicial process that disturbs activists. Teng Biao, a visiting scholar at Harvard Law School and co-founder of China Against the Death Penalty, says miscarriag­es of justice are common, citing the lack of judicial independen­ce, political interferen­ce, judicial corruption, police powers and limited lawyers’ rights.

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