Friday, 15 December 2006

No execution for Canberra murder: Report

China is ready to guarantee it will not execute the suspect in a Canberra murder case, according to a recent report in The Canberra Times.

The newspaper reported on 29 November that Chinese authorities have agreed not to impose the death penalty on Zhang Long if he is convicted of murdering his girlfriend Zhang Hong Jie (also known as Zhang Hongjie or Steffi Zhang).

Her badly decomposed body was found in January 2005 in their apartment in Belconnen, Canberra, several months after she was believed to have been strangled.

According to The Canberra Times, a spokesman for Australia's Justice Minister Chris Ellison said it was likely Zhang would be spared if he was found guilty.

"China has indicated it will give a written undertaking not to apply the death penalty," he said.

Zhang Long has reportedly been held in Chinese custody since 3 March, 2005.

The government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) refused to hand over evidence in the case until China gave an undertaking the death penalty would not be imposed.

The ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the government would hand over the evidence once it had received a written undertaking.

"If that commitment is formally given then we would be willing to assist Chinese authorities with prosecution," he said.

"This person is accused of a very serious crime and obviously we need to ensure justice is carried out."

Mr Corbell said the case showed "the importance of insisting the death penalty is unacceptable".

"It reinforces the importance of refusing to be complicit in actions that may lead to the death penalty and shows you can be successful in averting it," he said.

Sensitive negotiations
In June 2005, the Australian Government confirmed it was negotiating with Chinese authorities over the case.

The government confirmed that sensitive negotiations were continuing when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Australia in April 2006.

Debate in China
In the past year, Chinese legal experts have suggested its death penalty system may need reforming, to ensure suspects in criminal cases can be extradited from countries which oppose the death penalty.

Under Australian law, an international request for assistance in criminal cases can be refused where that assistance may result in the death penalty.

Related story:
Australia China talks over murder case -- 3 April, 2006

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