Chinese Postscript To Egyptian Death Sentence

BEIJING – There was an interesting Chinese twist to last week's ruling by an Egyptian court to sentence 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death. While the decision was widely condemned in the West, it has also drawn criticism from an unusual source: China’s state-backed media.

Xinhua News English edition featured a story entitled News Analysis: Egypt's mass death sentences raise human right concerns. Xinhua quoted Mohamed Zarie, an Egyptian lawyer and human rights activist, as saying, "It took only three days for the court to decide to execute over 500 humans, raising questions about human rights in general and justice in particular, which is one of the most important pillars of the state… it is catastrophic if the judiciary gets involved in political disputes."

Chinese-language sources also denounced the Egyptian move. Xinhua reports “The United Nations Expresses Shock about Hundreds of People Sentenced to Death in Egypt.” QQ News featured the following headline: “The U.N Calls Egypt’s Death Sentence of Hundreds of People a Violation of International Human Rights Law”.

The coverage is notable because international human rights campaigns, which in the past have included criticisms of Beijing, are often mocked by China's state media. Moreover, the Chinese government itself is widely believed to carry out more death sentences than the rest of the world combined.

Some however have pointed out recent reforms to limit the number of crimes punishable by the death penalty in China, and reduce political interference in the judicial process. Could the finger-wagging abroad be a sign of something changing at home?

-Brendan O’Reilly, a writer and educator based in China, specialized in Chinese foreign policy. He is the author of 50 Things You Didn’t Know About China (Alchemy Books, upcoming). He blogs at chineserelations.net

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