China: some good news and some bad

Some positive news from China for a change – Zhang Jun, vice-president of the supreme people's court, said this week that there would be a move to reduce the number of people sentenced to death and executed. If this is the case it could be the start of something very good.

His comments to the press certainly sounded positive, saying that the death penalty should only be used in extreme cases. Of course the problem is that there’s no way to assess whether he keeps his word.  Death penalty statistics are a secret in China and while Amnesty monitors as closely as we can, we’re reliant on reports of sentences and executions. We’ve been calling for years for the state to lift the veil of secrecy and reveal how many people it kills each year.

Repression of dissent, however, seems to be as bad as ever in the country. Next week sees the (secret) trial of Huang Qi, a human rights activist whose ‘crime’ was to try to help parents, whose children were killed in the Sichuan earthquake, get some justice.

The families believe that corruption – involving local authorities – resulted in poor construction of some public buildings that collapsed in the earthquake. They have been trying to pursue legal action.

Huang Qi is charged with “unlawfully holding documents classified as highly secret” and will face a maximum of three years’ imprisonment if convicted. If he is convicted, he’ll be yet another victim of the Chinese authorities’ use of the ‘state secrets’ system to penalise lawful rights’ defence activities.

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