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China to cut number of executions

29 July 09 11:47 GMT

China is to reduce the number of people it executes to "an extremely small number", a top court official says.

Zhang Jun, vice-president of the Supreme People's Court (SPC), said the court would in future impose more suspended death sentences.

Two years ago China gave the SPC power to review death sentences handed down by lower courts. That has already led to fewer executions.

Rights campaigners says China executes more people than any other country.

Mr Zhang, quoted in the state-run China Daily, said legislation would be improved to reduce the number of death sentences, and that the SPC would tighten restrictions on the use of capital punishment.

He said: "As it is impossible for the country to abolish capital punishment under current realities and social security conditions, it is an important effort to strictly control the application of the penalty by judicial organs."

'Ten-year low'

China does not release figures on the number of people it executes.

But in September 2007, after the SPC was given its power to review cases, Chinese state media reported that executions were at a "10-year low".

Amnesty International said China executed 1,718 people in 2008 - 72% of the world's total.

The death penalty still applies to 60 offences in China, including non-violent crimes such as tax fraud and embezzlement.

Mr Zhang told the China Daily that the SPC had been working to ensure that the death sentence was imposed only on those who had committed extremely serious or heinous crimes that led to grave social consequences.

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