China: Amnesty condemns expansion of lethal injection method

Amnesty International today strongly condemned the expansion of China’s lethal injection programme, questioning claims that it is ‘more humane’ than execution by firing squad. The organisation called on the Chinese authorities to accelerate the abolition of the death penalty.

Catherine Baber, Director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme, said:

“China’s extension of the lethal injection programme flies in the face of the clear international trend away from using the death penalty and ignores the problems inherent in this punishment.

“Arbitrary application, miscarriages of justice including execution of the innocent, and the cruel and inhumane nature of the death penalty cannot be solved by changing the method of execution.”

Amnesty International also challenged Jiang Xingchang, vice-president of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), to explain how lethal injection execution is more humane than execution by shooting. According to Amnesty International, lethal injection as a method of execution raises particular concerns. These include:

- Diverting attention from the suffering inherent in the death penalty by suggesting that death by lethal injection is humane. Evidence shows that it can cause convulsions and a prolonged and painful death.
- The potential to cause physical and mental suffering through botched implementation.
- The involvement of health personnel in executions. Virtually all codes of professional ethics that consider the death penalty oppose medical or nursing participation.

An Amnesty report from October 2007 examined the use of lethal injection in the USA and detailed numerous ‘botched’ executions. Some prisoners endured prolonged deaths of over an hour, others went into convulsions or suffered skin burns or bloody 'cut-down' operations to find veins. In addition, the medical 'efficiency' of lethal injection has recently been called into serious question, with grave concerns that its cocktail of drugs can result in a prisoner being put into a 'chemical straitjacket' - conscious but totally paralysed and unable to move or cry out while suffering excruciating pain and extreme mental suffering before death. On Monday 7 January the US Supreme Court will hear arguments that lethal injection can cause excruciating pain and is therefore unconstitutional.

China’s move towards lethal injection takes place just weeks after the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

Catherine Baber said:

“This move goes against the spirit of the Olympic Charter for the Beijing Olympics, which places the preservation of human dignity at the heart of the Olympic movement. There is nothing dignified or humane in the state killing of individuals by whatever means.”

Amnesty International has welcomed the Supreme People's Court review of all death sentences passed in China (in force since January 2007), which is expected to result in the reduction of the number of executions. Yet the lack of transparency in the application of the death penalty in China will make it impossible to assess or verify any change in the number of executions being carried out.

Catherine Baber added:

“The Chinese authorities must take concrete steps towards the abolition of death penalty. As a first step, China must make public the actual numbers of people executed and radically cut the number of capital offences. A positive legacy for the Beijing Olympics can only be achieved when China’s world record of executions comes to an end.”

  • find out more about our work on China
  • find out more about our campaign to abolish the death penalty /li>

View latest press releases