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China Launches Death Penalty Rethink

China’s top legislature is considering the abolition of the death penalty for a range of non-violent economic crimes.

The number of crimes punishable by death would be cut from 68 to 55.

China’s top legislature said on Monday it was considering the abolition of the death penalty for a range of non-violent economic crimes, including animal smuggling, tax evasion and forgery.

The proposed amendment to China’s criminal law would reduce the number of crimes punishable by death by about one-fifth, from 68 to 55.

The amendment is the latest in a number of reforms to the death penalty pushed for by Chinese legal scholars who have complained that many people guilty of trivial crimes or unfairly tried have been executed.

The reformers in recent years also persuaded the authorities to require Supreme Court approval for all death sentences and to make torture inadmissible in capital cases.

Amnesty International estimates China executes thousands of people each year, far more than the rest of the world combined, and often kills prisoners to make a political point to opponents of the ruling Communist party.

The 13 crimes that would no longer warrant the death penalty include smuggling of gold, silver, cultural relics or rare animals and their products.

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They also include forging or falsely selling tax invoices, teaching crime-committing methods, robbing ancient cultural ruins and carrying out fraudulent activities with letters of credit or financial bills.

Chinese legal experts said in practice the death penalty has seldom been used in recent years to punish people who committed these crimes and the draft amendment was largely intended to reflect the current reality.

Crimes that will remain punishable by death even if the amendment is approved, include “attempting to split the state”, “revealing state secrets” and “subversion”, all of which are poorly defined in China’s criminal code.

The draft amendment was submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s pliant legislature, for its first reading on Monday.

For relatively uncontroversial law changes, the NPC is usually allowed to decide for itself but more important decisions are made behind closed doors by the ruling party.

“Considering China’s current economic and social development reality, appropriately removing the death penalty from some economy-related non-violent offences, will not negatively affect social stability nor public security,” Li Shishi, director of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee, was quoted by state media as saying.

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