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Last Updated: Friday, 8 June 2007, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK
China death penalty verdicts drop
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 has handed out fewer death sentences in recent months, since laws governing the system were tightened up.

The number of death penalties meted out in Beijing courts this year dropped by 10% from the same time last year, the China Daily newspaper said.

Last November the law was changed so that only China's top court now has the power to review and ratify sentences handed down by lower courts.

China is believed to carry out more executions than any other country.

There had been repeated claims of miscarriages of justice since lower courts were given the right to approve the death sentence in the 1980s.

New trends

Ni Shouming of the Supreme Court said that figures from Beijing's lower courts showed that in the first five months of this year, death sentences had dropped by 10%.

He told the China Daily that this trend was evident across the country.

CHINA'S DEATH PENALTY
China is believed to execute more people than rest of the world combined
Non-violent crimes such as tax fraud and embezzlement carry death penalty
Other crimes include murder, rape, robbery and drug offences
China does not publish official figures on executions
Many cases are based on confessions and trials often take less than a day, observers say

"The lower courts have to be more prudent now," he was quoted as saying.

"If a case is sent back for a retrial by the highest court, it not only means the first judgement is wrong, but also a matter of shame for the lower court."

Criminal law expert, Chen Weidong, was quoted by the newspaper as saying that he expected to see executions drop by 20% in 2007.

"Leniency and more judicious use of capital punishment is the trend of the time," he said.

Wrongful convictions

The change in the law came into effect on 1 January 2007, and meant that any death sentence handed out by a lower court must be given final approval by the Supreme Court.

China's official state news agency, Xinhua, said at the time that it was one of the most important reforms of capital punishment in more than two decades.

Capital punishment has a long history in China.

In 2005, an estimated 1,770 executions were carried out and nearly 4,000 people were sentenced to death, human rights group Amnesty International says.

But recent cases of wrongful convictions had received widespread publicity both at home and abroad, putting the Chinese authorities under pressure over the issue.




SEE ALSO
China tightens death penalty law
31 Oct 06 |  Asia-Pacific
China to review death sentences
27 Sep 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Death penalty 'at record levels'
04 Apr 05 |  Americas
China revises death penalty law
29 Nov 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Timeline: China
18 Aug 06 |  Country profiles
Country profile: China
24 Aug 06 |  Country profiles

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