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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 September 2005, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
China to review death sentences
A group of members from various committees for the Abolition of the Death Penalty carry placards, featuring Hong Kong drug offenders who had been executed in mainland China, July 14, 2005.
China has the highest death penalty rate in the world
China's top court is to regain its power to review death sentences, as the authorities move to stem criticism that the death penalty is too widely used.

The Supreme Court passed its right to review to lower courts in the 1980s, and a series of subsequent miscarriages of justice have recently come to light.

China carried out at least 3,400 executions last year, according to rights group Amnesty International.

That is more than was carried out by all other countries combined, AI says.

The Supreme People's Court is setting up three branch courts in order to conduct the reviews, according to Chinese state media.

Executions per country in 2004, according to Amnesty International

"This will ensure the death penalty review process is truly neutral from administrative departments and prevent the intervention of other powers," the China Youth Daily quoted Supreme People's Court deputy director Wan E'xiang as saying.

Amnesty International welcomed the move. "We think it will make a difference, said China researcher Corinna-Barbara Francis.

Ms Francis pointed out that the Supreme Court would have more qualified staff, and would be immune from the local pressures which can sway decision-making in the lower courts.

She said she believed the revelation of several miscarriages of justice in the last six months had "humiliated" the authorities.

The move to empower the Supreme Court is part of a wider review of the use of the death penalty in China.

At the moment, Chinese citizens can be sentenced to death for crimes such as corruption and robbery, but there is a debate under way over whether those who commit non-violent crimes should be exempt.

Mr Wan said, however, that China was unlikely to abolish the death penalty.

"The question is almost beyond discussion in China, because the millennium-old notion of murderers paying with their own lives is deeply ingrained in people's minds," he was quoted as saying.

The Chinese media has given widespread coverage to two wrongful convictions this year - a butcher executed for murder in 1989 was proved innocent when his alleged victim was found alive, and a man was freed after 11 years in jail when his wife, whom he was accused of killing, was also found alive.

Death penalty 'at record levels'
04 Apr 05 |  Americas
China revises death penalty law
29 Nov 04 |  Asia-Pacific

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