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China plans to scrap death penalty for 9 crimes

BEIJING: China’s legislature is considering cutting nine crimes from the list of 55 punishable by death, state media said Monday, including illegal fundraising which has been at the centre of several controversial cases. 

The country executes more people than the rest of the world combined, rights groups say. But a draft amendment to reduce the scope of capital punishment was submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

China has proposed a series of changes to the legal system. Last week a major Communist party meeting pledged to ensure the “rule of law”, although analysts say the ruling party will remain firmly in charge of the courts.

The nine non-violent crimes include smuggling weapons, ammunition or nuclear materials, counterfeiting currency and raising funds by means of fraud, Xinhua said.

Executions for financial offences have been particularly controversial in China, where much bank lending is controlled by the state and private businesses sometimes struggle to obtain funding.

Last year Zeng Chengjie, a self-made businessman, was executed by firing squad — with his family not notified beforehand — after he was convicted of illegal fundraising and defrauding investors of about US$460 million.

His lawyers argued his assets would have been enough to cover his debts had the state not confiscated them.

A court sentenced a 39-year-old businesswoman to death last year after she was convicted of defrauding her clients of around US$70 million.

China cut the number of capital crimes from 68 to 55 in 2011. According to a report by the Dui Hua Foundation it executed 2,400 people last year, down from 10,000 a decade ago.

China has occasionally exonerated wrongfully executed convicts after others came forward to confess their crimes, or in some cases because the supposed murder victim was later found alive.

Its top court examines all death sentences and sent back 39 percent of them last year to lower courts for additional evidence, the Dui Hua report said, citing a report by the Southern Weekly newspaper.

In one landmark case in June the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence on Li Yan, a woman who killed her abusive husband.

‘Terrorism and extremism’

Proposals put before the party-controlled National People’s Congress are almost certain to be approved.

The ruling party also maintains a firm grip on the legal system, where courts have a near-100 percent conviction rate in criminal cases.

But authorities are looking to address widespread dissatisfaction at corruption. They have publicised promises by the Communist Party’s Fourth Plenum last week to centralise control over courts while granting judges increased independence in some cases.

The legislative committee is also mulling amendments to encourage courts to “order authorities to follow contracts or give compensation” if government officials break land use contracts, Xinhua said.

All Chinese land is owned by the state, and officials commonly give local residents compensation well below market value when forcing farmers off their land, which is then sold to developers for a profit.

It is considering changes to “crack down on terrorism,” Xinhua reported, after a series of deadly attacks in the far-western region of Xinjiang, home to the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority.

China blames clashes in the area which have killed more than 200 in the past year on separatist militant groups, and Xinhua said that under the new proposals those “refusing to provide evidence about terrorism and extremism” can face up to three years in jail.

Anyone who produces or distributes material “promoting terrorism and extremism” would face five year in jail.

Legislators are also likely to approve a new counterespionage law, amid tensions between Beijing and Western countries including the US over cyberspying. – AFP

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