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China is 'world's biggest executioner'

Amnesty International investigation discredits Beijing's claims of openness
China is 'world's biggest executioner'

China executed more people in 2016 than all other nations combined, Amnesty International said in a report released April 11, as death penalties in the world decreased overall. (Photo Anthony Wallace/AFP)

Published: April 13, 2017 08:28 AM GMT
Updated: April 13, 2017 08:32 AM GMT

Amnesty International's annual global death penalty survey has claimed the Chinese government is dramatically fudging how many people it executes each year.

Released on April 11, the Amnesty International global report on "Death Sentences and Executions 2016" said 1,032 people were executed around the world last year but these figures exclude China because the communist-led country does not provide reliable data.

"China executed more than all other countries in the world put together, while the U.S. reached a historic low in its use of the death penalty in 2016," Amnesty reported.

However, there was no accurate number of executions in China because hundreds of documented death penalty cases were missing from a national online court database.

Jackie Hung, officer of the Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong Diocese, said that there were many extrajudicial killings not reflected in the report since they do not have official records.

"We understand an international organization like Amnesty takes statistical data very seriously but there were many unofficial records from civil organizations and they would need to count," she said.

Extrajudicial killings in Asia are still common, Hung said, taking the example of the Philippines. In the first three months since he became president, 2,400 people were killed by police without any judicial process because they were suspected to be drug dealers.

"This January, I visited a slums area in the Philippines where the villages are fighting for their right to live since their land was taken away by the developer. I was told that a villager was shot by the police and claimed he is a drug trafficker," Hung said.


Number of deaths

The number of worldwide executions in 2016 went down 37 percent from 1,634 in 2015. Amnesty reported a significant fall in executions worldwide largely driven by drops in Iran from at least 977 to at least 567, and Pakistan from 326 to 87.

"China's database contains only a tiny fraction of the thousands of death sentences that Amnesty International estimates are handed out every year in China, reflecting the fact that the Chinese government continues to maintain almost total secrecy over the number of people sentenced to death and executed in the country," said the report.

China classifies information related to the death penalty as "state secrets." The Chinese authorities also say they are making progress towards judicial transparency. However, "Amnesty found public news reports of at least 931 individuals executed between 2014 and 2016 (only a fraction of the total executions), but only 85 of them are in the state database," said the report.

Although the public does not have any evidence that the Chinese government specifically issues death sentences for political motives, "it could be that in some cases local officials might be reluctant to redress a case in which a person is wrongfully or unfairly sentenced to death due to political motivations," William Nee, an Amnesty China researcher, told ucanews.com.

"Unfortunately, Chinese people right now do not have the opportunity to conduct a rational, informed debate on the death penalty due to the government concealing important information and pervasive censorship," Nee said.

"Chinese people do not have the space to carry out a debate about the fairness of sentencing or to what extent poverty and other factors contribute to the death penalty due to the government's stonewalling," he said.

"The Chinese government continues to conceal their use of the death penalty because they are afraid of looking bad if it went public. But at the same time, it should be recognized that the government has made some positive strides in recent years to decrease the use of the death penalty and improve legal safeguards for those accused of capital crimes," he added.




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