This is nearly five times more than all other legal executions carried out around the world, according to one National People's Congress delegate on Monday.

Chen Zhonglin's revelation is believed to be the first government official to claim such a number and have his estimate appear in the state-controlled press.

A president of the law school at Southwestern University of Politics and Law, and Government representative from the Chongqing municipality, Chen's statement was published in a weekend edition of the China Youth Daily.

He said he sought to curb the sheer volume of executions at China's last parliamentary session this month. 

If correct, the numbers put to death are far higher than the estimated annual number of executions reported by human rights groups.
  
Underestimates?

London-based Amnesty International counted 1060 reported executions in the state press in China last year.

Hands Off Cain, an international group opposed to the death penalty, estimated that more than 3000 people were executed in China in 2002.
  
While China is notorious for its liberal use of the death penalty, it has held the number of people executed each year as a closely guarded state secret. 
  

"These NPC delegates do have some special powers so if he asked the right official then there is a possibility that this number is accurate"

Yi Yanyong,
criminal law professor,
Tsinghua University

"We have never published such a figure so we do not know where Chen Zhonglin got this number," a spokesman at China's Supreme People's Court told journalists on Monday.
  
"We cannot comment on this figure, nor can we confirm it."
  
Pushing for change

In a proposal signed by Chen and 40 other delegates to the NPC, the government was urged to review all death sentences at the Supreme People's Court, China's highest court, instead of allowing provincial high courts to issue the execution order.
  
"The power of final verification and approval is very much tied up in the fate of some 10,000 people executed every year in China and should be a deep concern for everyone."

The delegates expressed their concern the government was acting illegally by not verifying and approving all capital punishment verdicts at the highest level as stipulated by law, the China Youth Daily said.
  
Chen believes current capital punishment practice violates the 1996 Criminal Procedural Law and the 1997 Criminal Law.
  
Believable figure?

Yi Yanyong, a criminal law professor at Tsinghua University's School of Law, said the number of executions in China cited by Chen could be accurate as he would have special powers of investigation as an NPC delegate.
  
"These NPC delegates do have some special powers so if he asked the right official then there is a possibility that this number is accurate."
  
"However, if he went around from court to court asking lower level officials how many people they executed, like a lot of scholars have tried to do, then it would be very difficult to come up with an accurate figure."
  
There was also a possibility that the figure used by Chen was his own estimate and was being used to bring more attention to the issue.