Once again this year, experts have named China “the world’s top executioner,” a title that it would prefer you not know about.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International released its annual global report on the death penalty recording that 1,032 state-sponsored executions took place worldwide in 2016, down 63% from the previous year which saw a historic spike in the number of executions.
Of course, that number does not include China which views its capital punishment data as a “state secret.” In the absence of official data, Amnesty could only broadly estimate that “thousands of executions [were] believed to have been carried out in China” in 2016 — or more than the rest of the world combined.
Experts believe that the only way that China could lose its “world’s top executioner” status would be for the government to come clean about its “grotesque” level of capital punishment. Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, called on the Chinese government to do just that:
China wants to be a leader on the world stage, but when it comes to the death penalty it is leading in the worst possible way – executing more people annually than any other country in the world.
The Chinese government has recognized it is a laggard in terms of openness and judicial transparency, but it persists in actively concealing the true scale of executions. It is high time for China to lift the veil on this deadly secret and finally come clean about its death penalty system.
The American human rights group Dui Hua has put the number of executions in China in 2016 at around 2,000, based on court research and contacts with government officials and legal scholars.
That number may sound colossal, until you find out that China carried out around 12,000 state executions back in 2002. Not to even mention the 24,000 executions carried out by provincial courts in 1982.
Thanks to international and domestic pressure, China’s use of capital punishment has plummeted in the last decade. Last month, Chief Justice Zhou Qiang told China’s top legislative body that the death penalty was only being used in “an extremely small number of criminals for extremely serious offenses.”
Public opinion about the death penalty has also been shifting thanks to a few high-profile cases of men who were executed only to be found innocent more than a decade later. Last month, the family of one man who was executed for a rape and murder he did not commit finally received state compensation of 2.68 million yuan more than 21 years later.
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