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Friday, 6 July, 2001, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
China executions 'part of culture'
Chinese prisoners led to execution
China committing 'execution frenzy'
By Holly Williams in Beijing

"If someone commits a serious crime, he should be killed. It makes me feel safer to know that people like that aren't around anymore", says Wang Jin, a 27-year-old Beijing hairdresser.

Wang should be heartened by a report on Friday from Amnesty International detailing the recent executions of over 1,700 people by Chinese authorities.

There's a Chinese saying that you should kill the chicken to scare the monkeys. We need that threat to be there - it's part of our culture

University graduate Yu Li
The rights group called the deaths a "huge waste of human life", and noted that China has executed more people in the last three months than the rest of the world has in the past three years.

Amnesty attributed the record number of deaths to the current "strike hard" campaign, aimed at cracking down on rising organised and violent crime. It said the campaign had sparked an "execution frenzy".

China prescribes execution for 68 offences, including 28 non-violent crimes. The recent executions included individuals convicted not only of murder and drug-trafficking, but of corruption, fraud and petty theft.

Olympics bid

According to Chinese legislation, accepting bribes of more than $12,000 is punishable by death. A man in the south-western province of Yunnan was recently executed for deliberately starting a forest fire.

Statue promoting Olympic football
Preparing for the Olympics

The Amnesty report comes just days before the International Olympics Committee announces the host city for the 2008 Olympics. China has fought a public relations battle to try and secure the games, attempting to deflect widespread criticism of its human rights record.

But the "strike hard" campaign is aimed at a domestic audience with very different sensitivities.

Capital punishment is still widely popular in China, especially as punishment for corrupt officials and gangsters. Authorities parade those sentenced to death at huge public rallies. Some are even broadcast on television.

Spates of executions aimed at "cleaning up" society are publicized in Chinese media before most major festivals and national holidays.

Changing opinion

Yet there are signs that opinion may be changing. There are no longer public executions in more sophisticated cities like Beijing and Shanghai. This week's edition of the influential magazine Outlook Weekly criticizes the "strike hard" campaign for encouraging the extraction of confessions through torture, and sentencing innocent suspects to death.

Still, even most sophisticated urbanites would shrink from the idea of abolishing capital punishment altogether. "There's a Chinese saying that you should kill the chicken to scare the monkeys", says university graduate Yu Li. "We need that threat to be there - it's part of our culture".

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See also:

06 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
China 'outstrips world' on executions
27 Aug 98 | Asia-Pacific
Mass execution in China
11 Jun 01 | Americas
Death penalty worldwide
08 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
China executes seven for forgery
31 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
China opts for lethal injection
19 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
China executes 11 Uighurs
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