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China questions death penalty
(Beijing Today)
Updated: 2005-01-27 10:01

Powerful arguments over the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in China have been voiced following the academic conference "the International Symposium on the Death Pnalty" held last month at Xiangtan in Hunan province.

Legal experts at the conference argued that China would need to limit the use of capital punishment when it ratifies the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and that abolition was the mark of a "civilized society."

Professor Qiu Xinglong, the dean of the law faculty in Xiangtan University, Hunan Province and a leading advocate for reforming the current death penalty in China, claimed that as long as the law recognized that criminals were humans, the criminals were entitled to live and the state and the law could not deprive them of their right to life.

He also recalled why he decided to speak up for the abolition of the death penalty by recalling spending time seeing a condemned 18-year-old in prison.

"At seven on the last morning, he was eating with me. An hour later, he was on the execution field," said. "From that moment on, I have been haunted by this question: why must we cruelly kill a fellow human being?"

In response, Zhang Jun, the deputy Minister of Justice, said the key issue in China regarding the death penalty is to reform the punishment system.

He said the goal of the reform is to set up more long-term prison sentences of 20 to 30 years and thereby to reduce the use of the death penalty.

China uses the death penalty for a wide range of crimes, from murder to economic crimes such as corruption.

In 2001, Amnesty International recorded more than 4,000 death sentences and nearly 2,500 executions in China.

Execution in China is usually carried out by a bullet to the head, and some provinces are experimenting with using lethal injections.

Since Beijing News published details of the conference on Monday, a wide and heated debate on whether to abolish capital punishment in China has taken place.

It's a topic which has spread well beyond the legal profession.

Zhang Jun, deputy Minister of Justice: the most feasible way to reform the Chinese punishment system is to set up more long-term prison sentences.

Chinese criminal law takes account of both cracking down on crime and maintaining human rights.

The focus of reforming the punishment system is not to abolish the death penalty but to set up more long-term prison sentences, for example, 20 or 30 year sentences in order to reduce the use of the death penalty.

A survey by the Ministry of Justice last year found out that most serious criminals who were sentenced to life imprisonment actually stayed in prison only for 15 or 16 years before being released.

My suggestion is to make sure they stay in prison for at least 25 years and then release them. A criminal who is released at 55 normally will not commit a new crime.

When the long-term imprisonment system is set up, judges will be less likely to resort to capital punishment.

I think that in the future, if the criminal law is going to be amended, the legislature might remove capital punishment as an option in punishing certain crimes.

Xia Qingwen, commentator with Xinhua.net: now's not the time to abolish the death penalty.

We cannot talk about the death penalty without understanding Chinese culture and the present situation.

The notion of "returning like for like" is rooted in China. The majority of the public could not accept that some murderers could go free after 10 years’ imprisonment.

Until Western ideas on human rights and life have been popularized in China, the abolition of the death penalty will not be supported.

The abolition of the death penalty would also result in a worsening public security environment.

In fact, many countries have experienced a process of abolishing the death penalty and then bringing it back again. For example, some areas of the United States tried to abolish the death penalty in 1967.

But 10 years later, the public pressured the government to bring it back after murder cases had increased dramatically.

Chantal Gill’ard a Dutch citizen with Diaspora International in Rotterdam: the death penalty should be abolished.

I think no man has rights above others, especially over their life. It is because the law, the judges and the judicial system can never be flawless. Many people are wrongly put on death row.

Further we are living in a racist world, where not all persons are treated equally. The best example is the US where in certain states, mainly the south, most people on death row are of black origin.

So people do not necessarily bas their judgement on facts, sometimes they base their judgement on their experiences and ideas. This makes the judicial system somewhat fragile. We must acknowledge this and not apply the most extreme punishment.

Finally, I do not think punishment heals the wounds of the victims. I do not believe killing is the ideal punishment. There are alternatives.

Li Shu, cousin of a criminal who was sentenced to death four years ago in Zhejiang Province: it's hard to take the death but our family was able to cop.

My cousin was sentenced to death for rape, robbery and murder in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province in 2001.

When he was alive, he caused a lot of troubles. As his relative, I felt that people looked down upon me.

When he was sentenced to death, the atmosphere in our family was quite depressing, but we were not that sad. I did not worry about him any more and knew that most people would forget about him soon.

Still, his death left an everlasting pain in our family.

Dr. Liu Renwen, researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences: the death penalty has a number of side effects.

The worst side effect of China's death penalty is that it is an obstacle to international and regional criminal judicial administration and coperation.

At present, the European Commission and some countries which have abolished the death penalty forbid the extradition of criminals to their home countries if they would face the death penalty there. For instance, Chinese smuggler Lai Changxing fled to Canada.

Since he would be sentenced to death if he was delivered back here, Canada has refused to extradite him.

Chen Xingliang, professor at Beijing University: the death penalty should be abolished but it does not mean that we can abolish it tomorrow.

The abolition of the death penalty is dependent on two conditions, the material civilization and the spiritual civilization.

When social productivity is improved, the country will be able to sustain the cost of long-term imprisonment. Spiritual civilization refers to a society that knows it is their duty to obey the law, so that the death penalty is no longer a necessary deterrent.


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