CHINA EXEMPTS 13 CRIMES FROM DEATH PENALTY
February 25, 2011: China's newly revised Criminal Law has reduced the number of crimes punishable by death by 13 to 55.
The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) passed the amendment to the Criminal Law Friday at its bi-monthly session.
It was the first time the People's Republic of China has reduced the number of crimes subject to the death penalty since the Criminal Law took effect in 1979.
The 13 crimes were economic-related non-violent offences, including smuggling cultural relics, gold, silver, and other precious metals and rare animals and their products out of the country; carrying out fraudulent activities with financial bills; carrying out fraudulent activities with letters of credit; the false issuance of exclusive value-added tax invoices to defraud export tax refunds or to offset taxes; the forging or selling of forged exclusive value-added tax invoices; the teaching of crime-committing methods; and robbing ancient cultural ruins.
The draft amendment was first submitted to the NPC Standing Committee, China's top legislature, last August.
(Sources: Ap, Xinhua, 25/02/2011)
The amendment is considered another move by China to limit the use of death penalty, following a decision in 2007 that all verdicts involving the capital punishment should be reviewed and approved by the Supreme People's Court (SPC).
The amendment also stipulates that the death penalty will not be imposed on people aged 75 or older at the time of trial, except if they commit a murder with exceptional cruelty. Previously, only convicts younger than 18 when the crime was committed, and pregnant women at the time of the trial, were exempted from capital punishment.
The amendment, the eighth to the 1997 version of the Criminal Law, is meant to further implement the principle of tempering justice with mercy.
According to the SPC, the court has overturned 10 percent of the death sentencesnationwide since 2007.
Thirteen economic, nonviolent offenses will be removed from the list of 68 crimes punishable by the death penalty, said Lang Sheng, who heads the legal committee of the Standing Committee to the National People's Congress, China's legislature.
Lang told reporters at a briefing in Beijing that abolishing capital punishment for the elderly was done "to demonstrate the spirit of humanity." It was not immediately clear how many people over the age of 75 are put to death annually in China.
However, the other changes would not bring down the number of people executed because it targets crimes that have rarely, if ever, had capital punishment applied to them, said Joshua Rosenzweig, research manager for the U.S.-based human rights group Dui Hua Foundation.
Capital punishment can still be used to punish other economic crimes such as corruption.
"The big obstacle, I think, is corruption. Because there still is a very strong sense that corrupt officials must die, among the Chinese population at large," Rosenzweig said. "The revulsion for that offense is so strong that there would be a potential political cost to eliminating the death penalty for corruption."
Legal authorities have sought to stamp out abuses of the death penalty, particularly by demanding that all death sentences be reviewed by the nation's supreme court. They have called also for the penalty to be imposed only in the most extreme cases, although the punishment has wide public support in China.
Lang noted that the changes reduced the number of crimes punishable by death by nearly one-fifth and said the government would consider further revisions in the future.
"Of course, there are still some crimes that we've kept the death penalty for," he said. "For these, we will have to continue to study further according to the requirements of our economic and social development, the needs of maintaining public order and also the people's will."