Friday, 12 December 2008

China: Executions to preserve order, control

[Please note: long post]

China concluded three prominent capital cases with the execution of four defendants in late November.

They included:
* Wo Weihan, a medical scientist convicted of spying and shot in Beijing on the morning of 28 November
* Yang Jia, who was executed on 26 November following his conviction for the murder of six police officers
* Wang Zhendong, who ran a financial scam involving non-existent ant farms, also executed on 26 November.

Scientist or spy?
Wo Weihan, 59, was convicted of spying for Taiwan in a trial condemned as unfair by his family and human rights groups.

His case attracted international attention after public appeals for his life from his daughters, the European Union and Austria. His wife and daughter were reportedly Austrian citizens.

Chinese media reported that his co-accused, 66 year-old missile expert Guo Wanjun, was executed on the same day. His case, however, did not generate international appeals.

Amnesty International (AI) issued several appeals urging Chinese authorities not to execute Wo Weihan and expressing concern he may not have received a fair trial, "particularly as he was not allowed prompt access to a lawyer".

In the days before the execution, AI said Wo Weihan should be pardoned rather than executed.

It said the charges against Wo Weihan included that he discussed the health of senior Chinese leaders, which was considered a state secret, and that he sent information from a "classified" magazine, which was actually available in the Chinese Academy of Sciences library.

"Available information suggests that Wo Weihan did not receive a fair trial according to international standards," said Sam Zarifi, the organisation's Asia Pacific Director.

"He was convicted of violating China's vaguely-defined state secrets law. China is entitled to prosecute people for spying but for him to be killed by the Chinese government is cruel and inhumane."

The organisation said his family claimed he confessed to the charges "in the absence of a lawyer and ... he later recanted his confession and claimed innocence, which raised doubts over his treatment in detention".

One of his daughters said her father did not receive a fair trial.

"The execution is not fair. The process was not transparent," she said.

"The evidence in the verdict was vague and circumstantial, and he was found guilty through a confession that was forced out of him and which he retracted later in court. We can only now appeal to stop any execution and keep my father alive."

His family was not officially informed of the execution and two of his daughters issued a statement afterwards saying they were "deeply shocked, saddened, disappointed and outraged".

"We, the family, were not allowed to say goodbye. We were also denied the most fundamental and universal right of information about what was happening with our father. Throughout these four years since our father's arrest, the family was kept in the dark."

Europeans condemn, Chinese defensive
Austrian foreign minister Ursula Plassnik condemned the "cold-hearted and inhuman approach taken by the Chinese judiciary” in the case, and extended her condolences to his family.

"The fact that the execution was abruptly carried out on the day of the human rights dialogue between the EU and China emphasizes the ruthlessness and coldness with which this case was handled," she said.

China was stung into defending the evidence against Wo and the conduct of his trial, issuing several statements in the week after the execution and publishing detailed allegations against him in state-run media.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Wo was convicted after a "just and fair trial" and Europen criticism was "a direct interference in China's judicial sovereignty".

According to Xinhua, Qin Gang said all citizens were equal before the law, and Wo could not be made an exception "simply because he has foreign relatives".

Mental illness claims over Yang Jia
Unemployed Shanghai man Yang Jia, 28, was executed on 26 November for killing six police officers with a knife in a 1 July attack on Shanghai's Zhabei district police station.

He was convicted of premeditated murder after a closed trial and sentenced to death on 1 September by Shanghai No. 2 Intermediate People's Court.

The Shanghai Higher People's Court rejected his appeal against the death sentence on 20 October.

The Supreme People's Court approved his death sentence on 21 November, five days before he was shot.

Some reports said he was taking revenge on police for beating him in custody in October 2007, after he was arrested for riding an unlicensed bicycle and accused of stealing it.

Chinese media reports referred to claims he had unsuccessfully sued police for "psychological distress" over his interrogation, but only international reports referred to the allegations of ill-treatment by police.

Yang's lawyers argued at his trial and appeal hearings that he was suffering from mental illness at the time of the attack, but the court ruled he was mentally competent at the time.

His case generated relatively widespread discussion within China, and conflicting reports from his father and local lawyers regarding his legal representation.

Ant scammer executed
Wang Zhendong, general manager of a fake scheme to breed ants, was executed for fraud on 26 November in Liaoning Province, northeast China.

Fifteen other company managers were jailed for between five and 10 years by the Yingkou Intermediate People's Court last February.

Xinhua reported that investors lost 3 billion yuan (417 million U.S. dollars) in the scam between 2002 and 2005.

The report said more than 10,000 joined the scheme to breed ants to make liquor, herbal remedies and aphrodisiacs, which Wang promised would earn returns of 35 to 60 per cent.

The AFP newsagency said some small investors lost their life savings in the racket.

"Fake investments and pyramid investment schemes have become common during China's transition from a planned economy to a free market," AFP said.

"Chinese leaders have tried to eradicate the scams, fearing widespread losses could add to already percolating social unrest."

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