China hides death penalties, cloaks numbers in secrecy, says new Amnesty report
Rights group Amnesty International estimates that yearly, the actual number runs into the thousands, but are missing from a national online court database.world Updated: Apr 12, 2017 01:23 IST
A leading rights group has dismissed China’s claims of transparency in revealing the extent of capital punishments it carries out, saying it remains a “deadly secret” as Beijing executes thousands of people every year and hides the numbers behind an “elaborate secrecy system”.
Rights group Amnesty International’s (AI) report, “China’s Deadly Secrets” released on Tuesday, says “hundreds of documented death penalty cases are missing from a national online court database that was initially touted as a “crucial step towards openness” and is regularly heralded as evidence that “the country’s judicial system has nothing to hide”.
The AI report contradicts what Chief Justice of Supreme People’s Court (SPC) Zhou Qiang, China’s Parliament, and the National People’s Congress (NPC) say.
Zhou said China’s courts “only handed out death sentences to an extremely small number of criminals for extremely severe offenses in the past ten years”.
He said the capital punishment had been “strictly controlled and applied prudently since 2007”, when the SPC reserved the right to review all death penalty decisions handed out by lower courts.
Zhou, however, did not give an exact number of cases where death sentences had been applied.
That is one of the main problems with the system, the AI report says.
The AI report indicates that China’s database deliberately contains information about only a fraction of death sentences the courts carry out each year “…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”.
The report added that AI “found only 701 individuals whose death sentences had been approved by the SPC between 2011 and 2016, while the organisation estimates that yearly the actual number runs into the thousands”.
“Irrespective of the number of recorded cases, Amnesty’s research and analysis continues to show that China consistently carries out more executions each year than any other country in the world—killing thousands of people annually,” the report said.
These “executions take place within the context of a judicial system that is not independent from the authority of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and therefore subject to direct political interference”, it said.
The report mentioned troubling patterns in the database—drugs and terrorism-related death penalty cases seemed to be missing from the database.
“The second troubling pattern Amnesty’s analysis reveals is that in line with what research on death penalty worldwide has identified, the death penalty in China seems to be meted out disproportionately to individuals who are poor, those with lower levels of education and members of racial, ethnic or religious minorities.”
“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,” said Salil Shetty, AI general secretary.
“The Chinese government continues to conceal the extent of the use of capital punishment in the country, despite claims that it has reduced the use of the death penalty, and despite claims that it is bringing about greater transparency and openness in its criminal justice system,” said William Nee, AI’s Hong Kong-based China expert.
“There have been a few high-profile exonerations in recent years—of Hujilit and Nie Shubin. But without greater transparency, the Chinese public will have no idea how many cases like Nie Shubin’s there really are,” he said.
“Amnesty International continues to estimate that thousands of people are sentenced to death and executed in China every year. Without transparency, the Chinese public is not able to engage in a rational, informed debate,” he said.
The report concluded that Chinese authorities seem to be “engaged in an elaborate policy of systematic evasion, occasionally making partial disclosures or hinting at positive developments in order to stimulate reforms, overcome internal resistance or respond to international criticism…” to its capital punishment policies.