[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- worldwide
j_sommer at gmx.net
Fri Mar 18 12:52:08 CST 2005
death penalty news
March 18, 2005
Death-penalty debate grips China after wrongful execution
When police executed a man named Nie Shubin in 1995, nobody bothered to
tell his parents.
His father learned of his son's death a day later, when he tried to bring a
package of food and clothes to prison.
In his home village, south of Beijing, his neighbours were shocked when the
shy 20-year-old man was accused of raping and murdering a woman. They knew
him as a polite and gentle youth who stuttered when he spoke. He was so
meek that he was unable to kill a rooster when his mother wanted to make
Now, a decade later, police have admitted what everyone always suspected:
Nie Shubin was innocent. He was executed for a crime he never committed.
The wrongful execution has provoked a major scandal in the Chinese media,
fuelling a growing debate over the death penalty in a country that executes
far more people than the rest of the world combined.
Human-rights groups have estimated that China executes 5,000 to 12,000
people every year -- as many as 90 per cent of all the court-ordered
executions in the world. In many cases, convicts are paraded in public
before being taken to execution grounds and killed by a bullet in the back
of the head.
Waves of executions are often conducted during anti-corruption or anti-drug
campaigns. Many people are executed for non-violent crimes such as
vandalism or bribery.
Chinese authorities have staunchly defended the practice.
"Given our national conditions, we cannot abolish the death penalty," Prime
Minister Wen Jiabao told reporters in Beijing this week.
Yet a growing number of Chinese scholars are expressing their doubts about
the death penalty, and government officials are considering reforms to
allow greater judicial review of death-penalty sentences.
The intensifying debate made Nie Shubin's case a cause célèbre across the
country this week. Chinese newspapers and websites have been carrying
poignant stories about the distraught family of the young man. Some reports
said the police extracted a confession from him by beating him repeatedly.
"When we heard the truth about the case of Nie Shubin from the newspapers
and the Internet, we all cried," Mayor Nie Zhancai told a local newspaper
yesterday. "He was such a good boy. Even though he was quiet in public, he
was very polite and intelligent."
His parents were devastated when their son was arrested in 1994. They were
never officially informed of the charge or the verdict. They did not learn
any details of the accusations against their son until they read an article
in a local newspaper.
After the execution of his son, Nie Shubin's father quit his job and fell
into a deep depression. His health deteriorated and he drank half a bottle
of pesticide in an attempt to kill himself. He survived only because his
wife found him and took him to hospital.
The injustice was finally exposed this year when a man was arrested in a
neighbouring province and confessed to four murders, including the murder
that had led to Mr. Nie's conviction and execution. When he described the
scene of the murder, police went there and found that it exactly matched
The police said he knew details that only the killer could have known.
The man who confessed, however, has not been charged with the murder
because the file on the case has been officially closed. The police who
arrested him are seeking to charge him with the murder, but the police who
conducted the original investigation are refusing to reopen the case
because it would trigger a bureaucratic uproar and a demand for
compensation from the family of the executed man, according to local media
Chinese media commentators say the scandal should accelerate Beijing's
plans to allow the Supreme Court to review death-penalty cases.
"I predict that this case will arouse a strong reaction from the public,"
one commentator wrote on the People's Daily website. "We hope this case
will make the Supreme Court take action soon."
Wang Lin, a professor at Hainan University, said the case shows that China
needs to reform all levels of its judicial system to encourage greater
scrutiny of potentially wrongful convictions.
Another commentator, Yuan Yuanyuan, said he opposes the death penalty
because the Chinese judicial system is too opaque and unaccountable.
"Look at this case," he wrote on a Chinese website. "Only a single piece of
evidence, a confession obtained by torture, can decide someone's death."
Despite the government's refusal to abolish the death penalty, Beijing
appears to be increasingly sensitive to the issue. The Prime Minister, Mr.
Wen, promised that the system will be reformed.
"What we are doing is instituting a system to ensure prudence and justice
in passing death sentences," he said this week.
Yet despite such pledges, the executions are continuing at a heavy pace. At
least 650 were reported in Chinese media in December and January alone, and
the executions reached a peak in the two weeks leading up to the
celebration of the lunar new year in February, according to Amnesty
International. The cases reported in the media are believed to be only a
small fraction of the total.
"While the government claims that the death penalty is applied cautiously,
the ritual peak in executions we're witnessing at the moment completely
undermines any pretence of 'caution,' " Catherine Baber, deputy Asia
director at Amnesty International, said in a statement last month.
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