At least 470 people, that’s the number Chinese authorities put to death last year, but human rights group Amnesty International said that probably many more were killed.
The number of executions is a secret in China, but to Amnesty International, the Olympic hosting might be an explanation to the hidden extent of this figure.
But China’s foreign ministry said death penalty was limited to a small number of criminals.
Last year, in 24 countries, at least 1,252 people are known to have been executed. Still in 2007, some 3,347 people were sentenced to death, in 51 countries (map), and about 27,500 people are estimated to be currently on death row.
From the known executions, 88% took place five countries only : China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the US, Amnesty said.
The human rights group also said that China had executed more than any country in 2007. While the country confirmed 470 executions, Amnesty said the real number was probably running into thousands.
Kate Allen, the organisation’s UK director, said that “as the world’s biggest executioner, China gets the ‘gold medal’ for global executions.”
Tax fraud, stealing VAT receipts, damaging electric power facilities, selling counterfeit medicine, embezzlement, accepting bribes and drug offences, are some of the 60 crime that can carry the death penalty in China, said Amnesty.
Even though the sentenced to death are usually shot, some provinces are introducing lethat injections, which, according to the government, is more humane.
“The conditions are not right in China to abolish the death penalty, and would not be supported by the majority of the people”, said Jiang Yu, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, as a response to the Amnesty report.
‘People have a right to know’
“We severely control and cautiously use it, to ensure that it is only used in a small minority of the most serious cases.”
Recently the Chinese government has attempted to reform the system. Last year, it decreed that all cases involving the death penalty had to be referred to the Supreme Court. State media said that this new rule led to a 10% fall in executions, in the first five months of 2007.
Amnesty International urged the International Olympic Committee as well as the athletes, to push for more openness about executions, during the Olympic Games in Beijing, in August.
It added that“the secretive use of the death penalty must stop: the veil of secrecy surrounding the death penalty must be lifted”.
“Many governments claim that executions take place with public support. People therefore have a right to know what is being done in their name.”
Right behind China there is Iran, with 317 known executions last year, said the report. Saudi Arabia with 143, Pakistan with 135 and the US with 42, follow.
The totals had risen alarmingly in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, said Amnesty, but worldwide, the execution showed a drop down to 1,252 from 1, 591 the year before.
But in Iran, the executions included the stoning death of a man for adultery, as well as the execution of three people who were teenagers, aged between 13 and 16, at the time of their arrests.
In Saudi Arabia, among the people killed, there was a child offender, aged 15 or 16 at the time of his detention. There also was an Egyptian man, who was beheaded for “sorcery” and adultery. He is one of at least 76 foreigners who were executed by the Gulf kingdom.
Noting that in December 2007, the UN General Assembly had voted, by a large majority, in favour of a resolution calling for an end to capital punishment, Amnesty welcomed the wider trend toward the global abolition of the death penalty.
Amnesty International added that“the taking of life by the state is one of the most drastic acts a government can undertake. We are urging all governments to follow the commitments made at the UN and abolish the death penalty once and for all.”