Saturday, 3 April 2010

Amnesty appeal to Taiwan

Amnesty renews its call for Ma to end capital punishment
By Shelley Huang
31 March, 2010, Page 3
Taipei Times

Amnesty International yesterday renewed its call on President Ma Ying-jeou to abolish the death penalty.

Speaking at a press conference in Taipei to mark the group’s annual report on executions, Roseann Rife, deputy program director for Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific office, said: "Amnesty International reiterated to President Ma Ying-jeou that we look to Taiwan to also be a leader in the region and help influence China and Japan to take similar steps."

Amnesty International secretary-general Claudio Cordone wrote to Ma earlier this month to make a similar appeal.

Rife’s appeal came as the nation looks likely to execute the first of its 44 inmates on death row later this year. There has not been an execution since late 2005.

The issue of whether to abolish the death penalty resurfaced recently after minister of justice Wang Ching-feng was forced to resign because of reactions to a statement in which she made clear her support for the abolition of the death penalty and refused to sign off on outstanding execution orders.

Her successor, Tseng Yung-fu, said he would have no problem signing execution orders once all procedures have been completed.

At the press conference yesterday, Rife said that in many countries, death sentences are often the result of flawed legal procedures.

Many defendants are too poor to hire attorneys and court-appointed lawyers are often inexperienced or have heavy workloads, which is unfair to the defendants.

The rights group also urged Ma to follow the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights — which was signed by him last year and is now in force — to protect human rights by abolishing the death penalty.

In its annual report, Amnesty said that China, which uses the death penalty as a political weapon, had the highest number of executions last year.

The report shows that as of last year, 95 countries abolished the death penalty.

Although 58 countries have yet to abolish the death penalty, only 18 performed executions last year.

This was the first year Amnesty disregarded official information published by the Chinese government, which does not release exact figures because "executions are still kept as state secrets in China," Rife said.

The rights group alleges that the actual number of executions in China last year — estimated to be in the thousands — far exceeds the official figures released by Beijing.


How many does China execute?

The details of the executions of thousands of people a year is a state secret – and it could be worse than Amnesty fears
30 March 2010
The Guardian - Comment is free

You might have heard it said that China executes more people than all other countries in the world put together. Not just a handful, but thousands and thousands of people every single year. This, broadly, is true.

But suppose you actually wanted to find out exactly how many people the People's Republic executes annually. Any chance of getting this information? No. Try asking the Chinese authorities, and you'll get a stern "it's a state secret" rebuff. If you happened to get hold of some solid information (from lawyers in China, for example) you'd then be in possession of a state secret which it would be illegal to make public. It's basically as if there's a super-injunction on the information – not just on the actual information, but anything relating to it.

Amnesty's new report on the death penalty worldwide does its best to cut through the secrecy by estimating that there were "thousands" of executions in China in 2009. Based on sources – which we can't, for safety's sake, reveal – this seems reasonable. But it's still a rough and ready guesstimate. Amazing, given the seriousness of the topic.

China likes to have it both ways. It's been boasting that it has reformed its capital punishment system and that execution numbers are down. But it won't give any figures.

One thing we know – more or less – is that there are approximately 68 offences in China for which you can receive a death sentence. Many are not for lethal crimes – as we saw with the shocking execution of the British man Akmal Shaikh in December for alleged drugs offences. China's capital crimes reportedly include reselling forged VAT receipts, causing damage to public property, and cattle rustling. Three years ago a man was sentenced to death for selling overpriced ants.

However, I don't think a full list exists. That would be far too open for the Chinese authorities. If a proper source ever comes to light, it will be interesting to see if "revealing a state secret, including information about the People's Republic of China's use of capital punishment" is included as a capital crime. It wouldn't surprise me – this Catch 22-like paradox would suit China's secretive use of the death penalty down to the ground.

But here's an ominous thought. State secrets are normally things like defence matters or intelligence issues. What, then, is China so keen to hide on the death penalty?

Could it be that the numbers of people in China going to their deaths before firing squads and in mobile lethal injection chambers is actually far higher than we already feared?