Law review accords with society’s view on death penalty

By Su Li Source:Global Times Published: 2014-10-27 23:48:03

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress is reviewing a draft amendment to China's Criminal Law, one highlight of which is to scrap the death penalty for nine crimes, including raising funds by means of fraud and smuggling weapons and nuclear materials.

The trend of reducing the use of the death penalty in China is clear. In the wake of the last amendment to the Criminal Law in 2011, 13 nonviolent economic crimes were trimmed from the list of offenses eligible for the death penalty. If the new amendment is passed and nine more crimes are exempt from capital punishment, the number of offenses punishable by death will be lowered to 46.

China's executions of criminals have long been cited by overseas rights groups to denounce the country's human rights situation. The Chinese authorities' stance is firm - abolishing the death penalty is impractical given current social conditions, but the eligible crimes should be gradually cut to limit the usage of capital punishment.

In recent years there has been great controversy over the death sentence in certain criminal cases in China. But the discussions among both academia and the public have become increasingly rational. At the moment, there is basic social consensus that China should not immediately abolish the death penalty, but should push toward this direction in a gradual way. Some scholars have proposed concrete steps that can contribute to this progress, including further boosting transparency of executions, setting a timeline for removing capital punishment and fostering a social culture that adapts to a criminal justice system without the death penalty.

Among the public, an agreement has also taken shape that flexible  opinions and consequent irrational appeals should not be considered as one of the parameters that decide the pace of China's death penalty reform.

Clear and concrete procedural reforms have been carried out. Since the reforms introduced in 2007, notable protections have been introduced in death penalty cases, including mandatory appellate hearings, longer trials, and stricter review of death sentences. According to media reports, in June 2014, China's Supreme People's Court overturned a death sentence against Li Yan from Sichuan Province, who killed and dismembered her husband in 2010, after reviewing evidence of domestic violence. This was seen as a landmark decision among China watchers abroad, and the UN immediately expressed its welcome of such developments in China.

Abolishing the death penalty is a long historical process, which has seen twists and turns across the world in the past two centuries. Today it has become an eye-catching issue in international politics. There are many challenges ahead before phasing out the death penalty. But it is vital that great progress is being made in both procedural design and judicial practice concerning capital punishment.

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