CHINA executed more people in 2016 than all other nations combined, Amnesty International said Tuesday, as death penalties in the world decreased overall.
The revelations come after Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull was last week forced to drop a bid to ratify an extradition treaty with China.
The human rights organisation estimates the Asian giant alone killed “thousands” of people, a figure based on examinations of court records and news reports.
China executed more people in 2016 than all other nations combined. Picture: Getty
All other countries together executed at least 1,032 people last year — a decline of 37 percent compared to 2015.
China was one of four countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, that were responsible for 87 per cent of all executions last year, the activist group said.
Amnesty’s report found that hundreds of death sentences, including cases involving foreign nationals, had been omitted from China’s public database of court verdicts, suggesting a concerted effort to hide the extent of the country’s killings.
The ruling Communist Party considers the death toll a state secret.
“China is really the only country that has such a complete regime of secrecy over executions,” Amnesty’s East Asia director Nicholas Bequelin said at a press conference in Hong Kong.
“Probably the reason is the numbers are shockingly high, and China doesn’t want to be a complete outlier in the world,” he said.
Despite local media reports saying at least 931 individuals were executed between 2014 and 2016, only 85 of them were in the online database, Amnesty said.
In 2013, China’s Supreme People’s Court ruled that legal judgments should be made public, but the decision included many exceptions, including cases involving “state secrets” or personal privacy.
Previous estimates from other rights groups also put the number of annual executions in China in the thousands.
Chinese courts have a conviction rate of 99.92 percent, and concerns over wrongful verdicts are fuelled by police reliance on forced confessions and the lack of effective defence in criminal trials.
The nation’s top judge, Zhou Qiang, apologised in 2015 for past miscarriages of justice and said mistakes must be corrected.
In December 2016, a Chinese court cleared a man executed 21 years ago for murder, citing insufficient evidence in the original trial.
Chinese police during a hostage during an anti-riot drill at a prison in Suzhou, China’s Anhui province. Picture: AFP Source:AFP
However experts say recent reforms have not been widely implemented.
“For example, coerced confessions are supposed to be excluded from evidence.
“In practise, however, the police have unchallenged discretion to … extract confessions by detaining and torturing suspects for long periods,” New York University professor Jerome Cohen told AFP.
“Yet even the late Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, perhaps the greatest executioner in human history, recognised the likelihood of mistakes when imposing the death penalty,” Cohen noted.
“Mao admonished his officials to bear in mind that, once someone’s head is cut off, it cannot grow back.”
A 2016 report from the US-based Dui Hua Foundation said China’s average death row prisoner waits only two months for execution.
Only a handful of countries still use the death penalty with regularity. The United States executed 20 last year, the lowest figure for the country since 1991, in part because of court rulings and shortages of chemicals used in lethal injections.
Dui Hua estimates about 2,000 executions took place in China last year, down from a 6,500 a decade ago, said the group’s executive director, John Kamm.
The tally was based on research into lower-level court cases and contacts with government officials and Chinese and Western legal scholars, Kamm said.
An inmate walks out of a building decorated with Chinese couplets at the Chongqing Prison. Picture: Getty Source:Getty Images
Amnesty said its figure for worldwide executions excluding China represents a 37 percent drop from 2015. The United States recorded 20 executions, its fewest in 25 years, in part because of court rulings and shortages of chemicals used in lethal injections.
Yet as other countries shift away from capital punishment, China increasingly is seen as an outlier, said Amnesty International East Asia Director Nicholas Bequelin.
China’s chief justice, Zhou Qiang, told the national legislature last month that over the past decade executions were limited to “an extremely small number of criminals for extremely serious offences.”
China has faced longstanding pressure from the international community to curb its use of the death penalty, which reached a frenzy in 1983 with 24,000 executions after provincial courts were given powers to mete out capital punishment, according to Dui Hua.
Chinese prisoners following the lead of a police officer as they sing to as part of efforts to instil discipline. Picture: AP
The nation also has faced criticism for harvesting organs from executed inmates, including for sale to patients from overseas.
A News Corp investigation last year revealed doctors in China were working in conjunction with prisons and wait until they kill a
China banned the practice in 2015 but Bequelin said it’s impossible to know whether organ harvesting for profit has ceased because the legal system operates within a “black box” with little transparency.
“China is trying to have it both ways, both getting credit and allaying international pressure over the death penalty in the county, while maintain and enforcing an elaborate system of secrecy,” Bequelin said.
Oversight of death sentence cases was returned to China’s highest court, the Supreme People’s Court, in 2007.
In this Monday, April 10, 2017 photo, Amnesty International East Asia Director Nicholas Bequelin, left, and Deputy Director of Global Issues James Lynch hold the copies of reports on the death penalty. Picture: AP
Since that time, the government has narrowed which crimes can bring capital punishment but still lists more than three dozen eligible offences, including treason, separatism, spying, arson, murder, rape, robbery and human trafficking.
Ninety percent of executions last year were for homicide cases, said legal scholar Hong Daode.
“There has been a long tradition in China that the one that has taken people’s lives should pay with his own life,” said Hong, a professor of criminal law at China University of Political Science and Law.
Hong and others faulted Amnesty for claiming in its Tuesday report that verdicts on only 85 executions between 2014 and 2016 showed up on a supreme court website, out of at least 931 that the human rights group tallied through public news reports.
Among the cases omitted were the executions of foreigners for drug crimes and people accused of terrorism in China’s in Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, the group said.
But Hong said the website was never intended to provide a comprehensive database of executions and likely only includes verdicts intended to influence society or guide future trials.
Despite the progress made in recent years, Dui Hua’s Kamm said the number of executions in China remains “a national embarrassment.” “Pushing for the Chinese government to release the number is perhaps the most effective way to drive it down,” he said.