World News

China to reduce number of executions, paper says

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will cut the number of people it executes every year to “an extremely small number” and commute more death sentences, though the country has no plans to abolish capital punishment, a state newspaper said on Wednesday.

China is probably the world’s most prolific state executioner, with at least 7,000 people sentenced to death and 1,718 people executed last year, according to rights group Amnesty International.

It has drawn criticism from rights activists for the high execution rate and the range of crimes that carry the death penalty. It now applies to more than 60 offences in China, including many non-violent and economic crimes. But the China Daily quoted Zhang Jun, vice-president of the Supreme People’s Court, as saying the number of executions will be reined in.

“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,” Zhang said.

“Judicial departments should use the least number of death sentences possible.”

The report did not give any figures for current execution rates or reduction targets, but Zhang did say that the ultimate punishment should be handed down only to “an extremely small number” of serious offenders, the paper said.

The court has been trying to hand down death sentences only to “those who have committed extremely serious or heinous crimes that lead to grave social consequences”, the paper added.

In January 2007, the Supreme People’s Court regained the power of final approval of death penalties, devolved to provincial high courts in the 1980s, and it promised to apply the ultimate punishment more carefully.