Tuesday, 10 March 2009

DP improvements not for economic crimes: China

The Supreme People's Court (SPC) is attempting to improve consistency in the application of the death penalty in China in cases involving violence, robbery or drug trafficking.

The SPC is developing a guideline to "unify standards" for lower courts, according to a senior judge quoted by state newsagency Xinhua.

The guideline would apply to murder, robbery, abduction, drug trafficking and intentional injury, which the judge said accounted for nearly all death sentences handed down.

"It will include the necessary conditions for handing down the death sentence to those found guilty of any of the five crimes," he said.

"We must unify standards across the county so as to avoid such situations where different sentences are handed down to people found guilty of committing similar crimes."

However the report said the guideline was not expected to apply to cases involving economic crimes.

Xinhua said professor Chen Weidong, from the Renmin University of China, said unifying standards for capital punishment in serious economic cases would be complicated as "the value and harm done by economic crimes differ greatly, and the time is not yet right to set guidelines".

Capital, and punishment
China applies the death penalty to 68 offences, including for non-violent crimes.

A number of high-profile financial scandals have generated debate in China recently over the use, and consistency, of death sentences for economic offences.

Amnesty International (AI) reported an appeal by businesswoman Du Yimin was rejected on 13 January, after she was sentenced to death for illegally raising 700 million yuan (102 million U.S. dollars) in investments in her beauty parlours.

"Du Yimin’s death sentence has caused a debate about consistency in application of the death penalty," AI said.

"The day before she was sentenced to death, an official who used 15.8 billion Yuan of public funds to cover his personal spending was sentenced to fixed term imprisonment."

She was convicted of "fraudulent raising of public funds", although her lawyer argued she should have been convicted of the lesser offence of "illegally collecting public deposits", which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 yuan (73,000 U.S. dollars).

She could be executed at any time if her sentence is confirmed by the SPC.

'Reduced', but insufficient evidence
The SPC has claimed it overturned 15 per cent of death sentences in 2007 and the first half of 2008, although the government has consistently failed to release statistics to verify this claim.

Statistics about the use of the death penalty in China are classified as 'state secrets'.

Xinhua reported in June 2008 that the "high rejection rate shows how cautious the judiciary has been with capital punishment after the SPC took back the right to review death sentences from lower courts" from 1 January that year.

The presiding judge of the SPC's Third Criminal Law Court, Gao Jinghong, said at that time that the majority of the death sentences overturned were inappropriate or lacked sufficient evidence.

Xinhua also reported claims in May 2008 that Chinese courts had handed down 30 per cent fewer death sentences in 2007, compared with 2006 figures.

Related stories:
China: Death over milk, but no official answers -- 29 January 2009
China: Executions to preserve order, control -- 12 December 2008
Judge backs harsh sentences: China -- 20 April 2008
Party claims economic penalty 'prudent' -- 4 August, 2007
China: Courts claim fewer executions -- 31 July, 2007
China call for cautious death penalty - again -- 8 April, 2007
China: Judges try to limit death penalty -- 14 November, 2006
China reforms good, but not enough -- 8 November, 2006
China: Supreme Court review from January -- 1 November, 2006
Political questions over China's new appeal judges -- 2 July, 2006
China to retain death penalty, with reforms -- 13 March 2006

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