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China reviews law on death penalty
China considers dropping use of capital punishment for 13 economic crimes.
Last Modified: 23 Aug 2010 11:50 GMT
Rights groups have criticised China for its heavy use of the death penalty, saying it is excessive [EPA]

China is considering dropping capital punishment for some economic crimes, the official Xinhua news agency has said.

A draft amendment to the country's criminal code proposes cutting 13 "economy-related, non-violent offenses'' from the list of 68 crimes
punishable by the death penalty.

Xinhua said on Monday that the draft was submitted for a first reading to the standing committee of the National People's Congress [NPC].

The NPC website confirmed the draft was being considered but did not give any details.

Xinhua said the crimes to be dropped from the list of those punishable by death include carrying out fraudulent activities with financial bills and letters of credit, and forging and selling invoices to avoid taxes.

Others include smuggling cultural relics and precious metals such as gold out of the country.

Controversial issue

The news agency quoted Li Shishi, director of legislative affairs for the NPC standing committee, as saying that because of China's economic development, dropping the death penalty from some economic-related crimes would not hurt social stability or public security.

Victor Gao, from China's national association of international studies, told Al Jazeera that amending capital punishment law is a heatedly argued issue in China.

"It's very controversial, some people believe China should follow the international standard by gradually abolishing capital punishment, some argue that some of them are very necessary at this stage of China's development," Gao said.

"This is not surprising (the review). What is surprising that it is not a review of the criminal code in its entirety."

International rights groups have criticised China for its heavy use of the death penalty, saying it is excessive.

Changes in law

In recent years China has made several changes to how it decides and carries out the death penalty.

In May, new rules were issued saying evidence obtained through torture and threats cannot be used in criminal prosecutions and that such evidence would be thrown out in death penalty cases that are under appeal.

Those new regulations made it clear that evidence with unclear origins, confessions obtained through torture, and testimony acquired through violence and threats are invalid.

It was the first time Beijing had explicitly stated that evidence obtained under torture or duress was illegal and inadmissible in court.

The rulings are important for death penalty cases, where a flawed system has led to the deaths of several criminal suspects by torture in detention centres, rights groups have said.

In 2008, China's top court said about 15 per cent of death sentence verdicts by lower courts were found to have problems, the official China Daily newspaper reported in May.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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