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Killing Tradition: What It Will Take To End The Death Penalty In China

After several high-profile miscarriages of justice, could a Chinese movement take root to abolish capital punishment? But public outrage cuts both ways.

An 1867 public execution in China.
An 1867 public execution in China.
Lin Yunshi

BEIJING – In recent years in China, several miscarriages of justice have been in the spotlight, including cases or wrongful imprisonment -- and even execution.

Nie Shubin, 20, was executed in 1995 for the rape and murder of a woman. Ten years later, another man confessed to the crime.

Zhao Zuohai, 58, was convicted for the murder of a man in 2002, and sentenced to the death penalty. Ten years later, the victim, Zhao Zhenshang, turned up and Zuohai was acquitted and freed.

She Xianglin, 47, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 1998 for the murder of his wife. After spending 11 years in prison, he was declared innocent and released after his wife was found living in a neighboring province.

Following these high profile cases, there have been increasing discussions among Chinese scholars and in the public on whether or not the death penalty should be abolished. Recently, Zhao Bingzhi, a professor of criminal law at Beijing Normal University, recommended that China gradually limit and reduce the death penalty and ultimately abolish it.

Zhao Bingzhi is the Director of Beijing Normal University’s College of Criminal Law Science. He also serves as Distinguished Counselor to the Supreme People’s Court.

During a recent debate at the French Embassy in Beijing on the death penalty, Professor Zhao argued that China should limit strictly the application of the death penalty and gradually reduce the number of capital punishments. He suggested fully abrogating the death penalty in 2050, for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Execution as corruption deterrent?

Reviewing China's death penalty reform, Zhao explained that when China's tough anti-crime campaign – the severe-punishment campaign – was launched in 1982, China's National People's Congress Standing Committee passed 24 separate criminal laws in which the death penalty was attached to serious criminal offenses and economic crimes.

In addition the death penalty review system was amended so that the procedure for reviewing death penalty cases was delegated to the high courts in the provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government.

To prevent unjustified and wrongful executions as well as to control the total number of death penalty cases in China, the power of review of all death sentences was given back to the Supreme People’s Court in 2007. In 2011, China revised its Criminal law to reduce the number of crimes punishable by death by 13. Economic-related non-violent offenses such as financial and tax fraud, smuggling relics, precious metals and rare animals as well as looting cultural ruins were taken of the death penalty list.

However, today China still holds the world record for the most capital offenses – 55. Moreover, China considers the number of executions as a state secret and has never publicized it.

Some people believe that retaining the death punishment will help to curb corruption. But He Jiahong, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing believes this is not true. He says that while current anti-corruption policies rely on severe punishment, effective investigation is better than punishment. Case in point, even though the punishment for corruption in China is very harsh, there is still a very high incidence of corruption. This is proof that the best way to curb corruption is democracy and the rule of law.

As for the relationship between public opinion and the death penalty, Professor Qin Hui of Tsinghua University in Beijing says when a system progresses, it guides and changes public opinion. Qin believes that judicial reform of the abolition of the death penalty can prevail over public opinion, quoting He Weifang, one of the country’s most influential law professors: "The less judicial independence there is, the quicker the country should abolish the death penalty."

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Geopolitics

The Trudeau-Modi Row Reveals Growing Right-Wing Bent Of India's Diaspora

Western governments will not be oblivious to the growing right-wing activism among the diaspora and the efforts of the BJP and Narendra Modi's government to harness that energy for political support and stave off criticism of India.

The Trudeau-Modi Row Reveals Growing Right-Wing Bent Of India's Diaspora

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 Summit in New Delhi on Sept. 9

Sushil Aaron

-Analysis-

NEW DELHI — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has brought Narendra Modi’s exuberant post-G20 atmospherics to a halt by alleging in parliament that agents of the Indian government were involved in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian national, in June this year.

“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau said. The Canadian foreign ministry subsequently expelled an Indian diplomat, who was identified as the head of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s foreign intelligence agency, in Canada. [On Thursday, India retaliated through its visa processing center in Canada, which suspended services until further notice over “operational reasons.”]

Trudeau’s announcement was immediately picked up by the international media and generated quite a ripple across social media. This is big because the Canadians have accused the Indian government – not any private vigilante group or organisation – of murder in a foreign land.

Trudeau and Canadian state services seem to have taken this as seriously as the UK did when the Russian émigré Alexander Litvinenko was killed, allegedly on orders of the Kremlin. It is extraordinarily rare for a Western democracy to expel a diplomat from another democracy on these grounds.

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