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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: September 13, 2010 NO. 37 SEPTEMBER 16, 2010
Amending Death Rules
China's Criminal Law is being revised to cut down on death sentences and tighten up punishment for surging crimes

The eighth amendment to the Criminal Law, demanding more prudent use of capital punishment, has triggered hot debates in China after it was presented to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, for the first reading at the end of August.

The draft has been publicized on the website of the NPC Standing Committee to solicit public opinions until the end of September. There might be several readings before the amendment is ratified.

The amendment is meant to further implement the policy of tempering justice with mercy, according to a statement by the Chairmen's Council of the NPC Standing Committee.

Currently, 68 crimes are punishable by the death penalty in China. However, the draft amendment eliminates capital punishment for 13 economic-related non-violent offences, a drop of 19.1 percent.

The 13 crimes no longer punishable by death include smuggling cultural relics, gold, silver, and other precious metals and rare animals and their products; falsely issuing exclusive value-added tax invoices to defraud export tax refunds or offset taxes; and teaching methods for committing crimes, among others.

If the amendment becomes law, it would be the first time the number of crimes subject to the death penalty has been reduced since the People's Republic of China enacted its Criminal Law in 1979.

It will also be a major move by China to limit the use of the death penalty since the Supreme People's Court resumed the review and approval of all death penalty decisions in 2007.

Yuan Bin, an associate professor with the College for Criminal Law Science at Beijing Normal University and a long-time researcher of the Criminal Law, told Xinhua News Agency that Chinese public in general have changed from staunch supporters for the death penalty to believers in the ultimate elimination of death penalty.

"This is a landmark on our way to restricting capital punishment sentences until abolishing them for good," said Yuan.

While many NPC Standing Committee members support taking the 13 crimes off the list of offences deserving capital punishment, some voiced their opposition. Cong Bin, an NPC Standing Committee member, told Workers' Daily that the fact that those 13 crimes had been rarely applied for capital punishment should not be cited as an excuse to cancel them as their existence serves as deterrence. "Just like we cannot throw away our A-bombs," he said.

The draft amendment also allows for leniency to offenders younger than 18 or older than 75.

Previously, only those under 18 at the time a crime was committed, and women pregnant at the time of the hearing, were exempt from capital punishment.

However, during the first reading of the draft, many members of the NPC Standing Committee questioned the necessity of the 75-year-old standard. Rita Fan Hsu Lai-Tai, a member of the NPC Standing Committee, was quoted by Workers' Daily as saying "a 75-year-old should be responsible for his or her acts. While some people of that age are very fragile, some are healthy and capable to commit crimes. My concern is that some people might wait to reach 75 to commit a serious crime after such a clause was put in place."

Acts that endanger the public and draw complaints, including drunk driving, street racing, defaulting on salary payment to employees and human organ trading, have been written into the draft amendment as crimes.

Drunk drivers and street racers may face imprisonment and fines if the amendment is passed.

In the draft, convicted drunk drivers and street racers may face forced labor while in detention for one to six months and be fined if "their actions are of a vile nature."

According to Xinhua, NPC Standing Committee member Qiao Chuanxiu suggested all drunk driving offense, regardless of whether it results in an accident, should be punished as crimes, arguing that drunk driving is itself an act of subjective intention and its potential social harms are considerable.

Member Fang Xin said the draft amendment needs to clarify the definition of "vile nature"—whether to convict a driver according to the consequences of his act or by the act itself.

Drunk driving and street racing are only subject to administrative or civil penalties. Drunk drivers are usually detained for 15 days, according to the Law on Road Traffic Safety.

As organized crime has become a threat to the public in some parts of China, the amendment offers a definition of an "organization in the nature of a criminal syndicate" and lists tougher punishments for crimes by such organizations.

It also stipulates confiscation of assets for ringleaders and fines for members of such organizations. Government employees who provide protection to organized crime may face at least five years in prison.

In a bid to better protect disadvantaged groups, those convicted of forcing others to work may face penalties of up to seven years in prison, instead of only three years, and those who provide assistance to people organizing others for prostitution may face up to 10 years in prison.

Several forced labor scandals have come to light in China in recent years, including the one making headlines in 2007, when a brick-kiln boss in north China's Shanxi Province was found to have forced 1,340 people into labor, 367 of whom were mentally handicapped.


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