China has recently raised the death penalty threshold for corruption-related crimes, according to a new report. Chinese authorities say the changes reserve capital punishment for extremely serious corruption charges involving financial crimes exceeding 3 million yuan or more, an equivalent of $463,000. Formerly, officials convicted of accepting bribes of 100,000 yuan may have been eligible for the death penalty.
According to official reports, the Supreme People’s Court will now pronounce death sentences in corruption cases that correspond to an “extraordinarily huge value” as such crimes will likely have equally extraordinary repercussions for the state and its people. Miao Youshui, a senior judge associated with the Supreme People’s court had the following to say
“The ruling follows a general principle of harsh punishment for those found guilty of embezzlement or bribery,”
While the Chinese government’s crackdown on high-profile as well as grass-root level misappropriation of money continues, the recent move is indicative of a zero-tolerance approach towards officials charged with excessively high amounts of corruption. Although no corruption convict has yet been actually executed under the ongoing campaign, there have been instances where suspended death sentences had been pronounced but subsequently downgraded to life-in-prison.
In 2007, China’s top leadership decided to make it mandatory for all death sentences to be sanctioned by the Supreme People’s court alone in what was seen as a major legislative reform on death penalty cases in decades. Prior to it, for over 20 years, the country’s provincial courts were invested with the authority to pronounce death sentences for serious offenses committed against the public as well as other grave violations.
In recent times, China’s statistics on corruption have shown significant signs of improvement. According to Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perception Index or CPI, China’s ranking has improved compared to last year’s, climbing to 83 from its previous ranking of 100. These figures underscore China’s success on many fronts in recent times, particularly the campaigns directed against public sector corruption.
However, China’s overall record on state-sanctioned executions is far from appealing. According to human rights watchdog Amnesty International, China’s number of executions carried out last year may well be in their “thousands.” According to other U.S.-based human rights groups, these numbers could be as high as 5,000 convicts every year. Although more information on these figures is scant, many believe executions in China are predominantly carried out by means of lethal injection or officially-deployed firing squads.
Experts argue there may be several factors behind China’s insistence on persisting with the use of the death penalty as a foremost means of deterring more serious crimes. A history of employing capital punishment as a major deterrent against offences that may be deemed as anti-state may be one such factor. An overall policy favorably inclined toward the sanctioning of death sentences against certain punishable offenses, namely financial as well as and drug-related crimes, may be another.
For instance, in 2011, a former executive at China Mobile, one of China’s biggest state-owned telecommunications companies, was sentenced to death for accepting bribes, an offense that doesn’t warrant capital punishment in most other countries.
Despite the absence of actual figures which may shed more light on the subject of official executions carried out in China, analysts have commonly maintained that the country alone carries out more executions than all other countries combined. For instance, according to Amnesty, from the 30,000 death sentences handed out worldwide between 1990 to 1999, over half of these were pronounced in China. Similarly, another 2002 Amnesty report observed that China represented nearly two-thirds of the number of executions carried out worldwide during the year.
The newly implemented revisions to the death penalty law succeed the earlier corruption-specific provisions stipulated in the 1997 legislation, which had since then remained a subject of considerable inquiry and debate throughout the country.
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