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Last Updated: Monday, 29 November, 2004, 12:53 GMT
China revises death penalty law
By Francis Markus
BBC, Shanghai

Police parade thief before he was to be executed, south-western city of Chongqing, 17 November 2004
The death penalty can be applied for more than 60 crimes
China's official media has said the country is in the final stages of revising its law on the death penalty.

The changes would make the Supreme Court the ultimate body of appeal in capital cases.

One Western human rights worker involved with legal reform told the BBC that such a move would be highly significant.

Prominent lawyers believe the number of executions carried out could be reduced by up to one third, the worker said.

The number of people executed in China each year is regarded as a state secret.

A figure that has recently gained currency among academics is 10,000, but some believe even that is understated.

Now, though, a Beijing newspaper has reported that the Supreme Court is close to finalising a law which would make itself the body of ultimate appeal in capital cases.

The Supreme Court used to make the final decision on capital cases, but after Beijing launched a huge anti-crime drive at the outset of economic reform, that authority was delegated to high courts.

The move to reverse that may stem from pressure to live up to commitments under a UN civil rights convention which China has signed but not yet ratified.

But there is also debate among lawyers over the widespread use of execution for more than 60 different crimes, not just involving violence, but also, for example, serious charges of embezzlement and corruption.

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