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China to expand lethal injections

3 January 08 05:23 GMT

China is to expand the use of lethal injections to replace execution by shooting, a senior official has said.

Jiang Xingchang, vice-president of the Supreme People's Court (SPC), said that the move was because lethal injections were considered more humane.

Critics say China executes more people than any country in the world.

But Beijing is gradually reforming its use of the death penalty. Last year the Supreme Court ordered judges to be more sparing in its imposition.

Half of China's 404 Intermediate People's Courts - which carry out most of the country's executions - now use lethal injections, Jiang Xingchang told the China Daily.

Mr Jiang said that the method would eventually be used in all Intermediate People's Courts, but he gave no timescale for the shift.

"The SPC will help equip intermediate courts with all required facilities and train more professionals, particularly in the central and western regions," he told China Daily.

Death row inmates and their families backed the move, he said. The other method involves prisoners being shot in the back of the head.

In recent months, the lethal injection has become a subject of much debate in the US.

The US Supreme Court is currently considering a case brought by two death row inmates who say the method inflicts unnecessary pain and suffering.

China's Chief Justice Xiao Yang, meanwhile, told the newspaper that China was "working towards" more limited use of the death penalty, but ruled out ending the practice.

"We cannot talk about abolishing or controlling the use of death sentences in the abstract without considering ground realities and social security conditions," the daily quoted him as saying.

China does not release official statistics of its executions.

Rights group Amnesty International says that based on media reports an estimated 1,010 people were executed in 2006 - more than 60% of global executions - but it described this number as only the tip of the iceberg.

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