China`s death sentence rules to face extra scrutiny

China is accused of carrying out thousands of executions every year.

Updated: Jan 10, 2011, 14:55 PM IST

Beijing: China, which is accused by rights groups of carrying out thousands of executions every year, has directed its top court to scrutinise evidence, specially related to forced confessions, more carefully before upholding death sentences given by lower courts.

The Supreme People`s Court (SPC) will overturn death sentences in cases where evidence was collected by illegal means to further limit the application of capital punishment, a judicial official said.

Previously, the SPC while reviewing death sentence, would ask for a supplementary investigation or other evidence to be submitted if any evidence had been gained through illegal means.

"But starting this year, such cases will be directly rejected, and this will put more pressure on local courts and other judicial organs," SPC vice-president Zhang Jun was quoted as saying by China National Radio.

He said the existing rules, which state that evidence collected through illegal means should be excluded from court deliberations, were not well implemented.

"Forced confessions do exist in reality and lawyers sometimes state in court that torture has been used to get a confession, but very rarely do the courts determine that forced confessions exist," Zhang said.

"However, almost all the wrong cases that have been exposed are related to forced confessions, such as the case of Zhao Zuohai," he said.

The most famous case in this regard was that of Zhao, a villager from Henan province, who was released after 11 years imprisonment after the man he allegedly murdered turned alive.

Zhao later said he was tortured by police, who forced him to confess to the "crime".

Zhang said ever since the top court was given the power to review and ratify death sentences in 2007, the number of executions has decreased.

He, however, did not specify the number of death penalties carried out each year, but Hu Yunteng, head of the research department under the SPC, told China Daily last year that the top court has overturned, on average, 10 percent of all death sentences nationwide since 2007.

Hu said that the top court`s further tightening of rules regarding evidence will put more pressure on lower courts and make them more alert to illegal evidence being submitted.

Another legal expert said that the move will result in a reduction of executions.

"It will be conducive to reducing the number of executions and handling death penalty cases in a just and objective manner," Zhao Bingzhi, head of the criminal law research committee under the China Law Society, said.

China last year removed death penalty for people above 75 years.

The new law made last year also reduces 68 crimes stipulated as punishment by the death penalty. The draft amendment eliminates capital punishment for 13 economy-related non-violent offences.

The 13 crimes to be free from capital punishment include smuggling out of the country prohibited cultural relics, gold, silver, and other precious metals and rare animals and their products; carrying out fraudulent activities with financial bills; and carrying out fraudulent activities with letters of credit.

According to the Amnesty International, China executed thousands of people in 2009, though the human rights group said it has not been able to get exact figures.