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China: Death penalty reforms will have no great impact on executions

Fears that changes are ‘just legal housekeeping’

Amnesty International warned today that proposed reforms of China’s application of the death penalty may not result in significantly fewer executions.

Currently 68 crimes can result in the death penalty in China. According to the Chinese government news agency Xinhua, proposed amendments to the country’s criminal code could see that number cut to 55. The draft amendments are working their way through numerous readings in China’s legislative chamber.

Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Deputy-Director for the Asia-Pacific, said: “Although we would welcome any reform that would in practice decrease executions in China, we are not yet convinced that these legal revisions will have a significant impact.

“We are still waiting for the Chinese government to release the data that shows these proposed revisions are more than just legal housekeeping, removing crimes which have seldom been punished with the death penalty in recent years.”

As part of its campaigning against the death penalty, Amnesty International has called on China to reduce the number of capital crimes.

The draft amendment to China’s criminal code would, if passed, reportedly remove the death penalty as a punishment for white collar crimes such as tax fraud, and for smuggling valuables and cultural relics. It would also remove the death penalty as a punishment for those over 75 years of age.

The ultimate impact of any reforms to China's use of the death penalty cannot be publicly known and evaluated due to classification of execution figures as state secrets. China is estimated to be the world’s biggest executor.

Amnesty International is calling on the Chinese government to make the draft legislation and the national execution figures public, so that there can be transparent analysis and debate on the death penalty.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, as the ultimate violation of human rights.  

Find out more about our campaign to end the death penalty

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