Join our Mailing List

"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China: Issue Moratorium on Executions Before Olympics

October 9, 2007

Secrecy, Unfair Trials, Overbroad Laws Still the Rule Despite Reform

(New York, October 8, 2007) - China should impose a moratorium on all 
executions as a goodwill gesture before the 2008 Beijing Olympic 
Games, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch issued its 
call for a moratorium in advance of the World Day against the Death 
Penalty on October 10. China is estimated to execute more people than 
the rest of the world combined.

Human Rights Watch said that during the moratorium the Chinese 
government should sharply reduce the number of crimes eligible for 
the death penalty, make public the number of people executed and 
awaiting execution, and institute changes in trial and appeal 
procedures to ensure that they meet at least international minimum 
standards of fairness in all cases where capital punishment is 
demanded by prosecutors.

"As the world focuses on China's poor human rights record in the run-
up to the Olympics, the Chinese government could avoid further 
embarrassment by making a bold step to address its position as the 
world's leading executioner of its own citizens," said Brad Adams, 
Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

The Chinese government classifies as "state secrets" all statistics 
regarding capital punishment. Credible estimates suggest 
approximately 7,500 executions per year. State media claim that the 
number of people executed decreased in 2007 after the adoption of a 
system of mandatory vetting by the Supreme People's Court, China's 
highest judicial institution, took effect on January 1, 2007. The 
government also cites two additional regulations aimed at "killing 
fewer, killing more cautiously," which were promulgated on February 
27 and March 9, respectively. However, while this new system provides 
an additional centralized administrative review, it does not address 
serious systemic weaknesses in the trial process.

"The reported decrease in the number of executions is welcome, but 
that is no substitute for full transparency, fair trials, adequate 
defense counsel, and judicial independence," said Adams. "Because of 
structural deficiencies in the conduct of trials in China, no one 
executed in China today receives a fair trial in line with 
international standards."

The Chinese criminal justice system recognizes neither the 
presumption of innocence nor the right to remain silent, and places 
sharp limits on defense counsel and the rights of the accused. 
Torture to obtain confessions remains prevalent. A spate of wrongful 
convictions has emerged in recent years, with the deputy procurator-
general, Wang Zhenchuan, estimating in 2006 that there are at least 
30 cases every year of wrongful convictions attributable to 
confessions extracted through torture and that "nearly every wrongful 
verdict in recent years relates to illegal interrogation."

Chinese scholars have also expressed doubts that the newly introduced 
regulations can ensure justice in cases that have political 
implications. In particular, they point to the extreme speed with 
which the Supreme People's Court approved the execution of two former 
senior officials whose cases had national repercussions. In the case 
of Guo Yanyu, the former head of China's food and drug agency, who 
was charged with corruption, the Supreme Court completed its review 
in 13 working days, while it took just 10 working days for Duan Yihe, 
a member of the Chinese People's Congress from Jinan, Shandong 
Province, who was convicted of murdering his mistress in a car 

The desire to be seen as being tough on corruption and public order 
and to "appease public indignation" is a repeated justification 
advanced by the Chinese government to retain capital punishment.

Human Rights Watch said it was particularly concerned about official 
announcements by top security officials that the authorities would 
carry out anti-crime campaigns in the run-up of the 2008 Summer 
Olympics. These campaigns are often directly linked with an increase 
in death penalty sentences and executions.

In July, China's top law and order official, Luo Gan, announced that 
the authorities would "crack down severely on all kinds of hostile 
forces and troublemakers" bent on disturbing a "peaceful Olympics," 
and "severely punish all kinds of crimes."

"The International Olympics Committee should publicly press China for 
a moratorium on all executions during the Games," said Adams. "This 
would be in line with the Olympic Charter, which aims to promote 
through sport 'a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of 
human dignity.'"

The death penalty is currently mandated for no fewer than 68 crimes, 
including embezzlement and corruption. Chinese legal experts have 
long advocated that the most effective way of limiting the number of 
executions would be to limit the death penalty to violent crimes. But 
the government has shied away from such reform, because it does not 
want to appear as if it is unwilling to punish severely corrupt 
cadres and party officials, which is a growing cause of social 
discontent in China.

Although the death penalty has not been banned categorically in 
international law, the strong trend is toward its eventual abolition. 
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as 
inherently cruel, irreversible, and usually discriminatory in 
application, and believes it violates the right to life and 
fundamental dignity that all human beings possess.

To view the Human Rights Watch web center, "Beijing 2008: China's 
Olympian Human Rights Challenges," please visit:


For more information, please contact:

In Hong Kong, Phelim Kine (English, Mandarin): +852-6604-9792

In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-20-7713-2767; or 
+44-79-0872-8333 (mobile)

In Washington, DC, Sophie Richardson (English, Mandarin): 
+1-202-612-4341; or +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)

In Paris, Nicholas Bequelin (English, French, Mandarin): 
+852-8198-1040 (mobile

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank