Sharp Decline In Chinese Executions Mirrors Global Trend

Aug 19, 2013
Originally published on August 19, 2013 11:58 am

Executions in China are falling rapidly, in line with a trend worldwide, including in the U.S.

NPR reported on the decline in executions on Weekend Edition Sunday. An estimated 3,000 people were put to death in China last year. That number is down from an average of 15,000 a year in the 1990s.

The numbers are estimates because China doesn't release execution figures, which are considered a state secret.

Gady Epstein, the China correspondent for the Economist who recently wrote about the death penalty there, told NPR's Rachel Martin that the number of executions last year were down 75 percent from 2002. He said:

"One significant milestone came in 2007 when the Supreme People's Court began to review every single death penalty case, and [that] probably is the one factor that's most chiefly responsible for the reduction in executions overall.

"I think the people who were evolving in the system in the '80s and '90s — people who were trained in law — they paid attention to the fact that international public opinion was horrified at the number of people being executed in China, to the extent that it was kind of a public issue.

"And this gets at why this decline was not really well noticed, is because the number of people that China executes every year is not widely publicized in itself because it's a state secret. So similarly, the decline has happened very quietly."

But Epstein notes that though there are far fewer executions in China, many of those not being executed are being sentenced to life in a system "that still doesn't guarantee a fair trial — and far from it."

Still, the decline in China parallels what is happening in many other countries, as this chart compiled by the Guardian shows.

In its annual report on the death penalty released in April, the human rights group Amnesty International noted that "the overall trend globally is towards abolition: only one in 10 countries worldwide carried out death sentences."

The number of people recorded as sentenced to death fell from 1,923 (in 63 countries) in 2011 to 1,722 (in 58 countries) in 2012. The report does not include China because it does not release figures.

Amnesty International, which opposes the death penalty in all cases, also noted that some countries have resumed executions, including Gambia, India, Japan and Pakistan.

China executed more people last year than all other countries combined. The countries that round up the top five in executions are Iran (at least 314), Iraq (at least 129), Saudi Arabia (at least 79) and the U.S. (43).

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