Executions set to soar as Peking fights graft

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The Independent Online
THE NUMBER of death sentences passed in China has shown a sharp rise in the wake of the country's anti-corruption campaign, with at least 570 people sentenced to death in September alone. Executions are likely to become even more commonplace after China's senior judge called for a crackdown on soaring levels of violent crime.

The total number of executions is kept secret, but figures recently collated by Amnesty International suggest there was a big jump in the second half of the year as the anti-corruption campaign took force.

Up to November, Amnesty recorded 1,249 executions (rather than the passing of the death sentence), about 16 per cent more than in all of 1992. The real total is higher, because many executions never come to the notice of foreign human rights bodies.

In the worst month, September, at least 373 of those sentenced were also executed, many after attending group 'show sentencings' that are put on as a deterrent. In the run-up to National Day on 1 October the courts often try to 'clear the books' with wholesale executions.

Among the cases reported in Chinese newspapers were:

In mid-September, 80 people were sentenced to death in Jiangxi province for theft and robbery with violence.

On 18 September, 13 people were executed in Nanjing.

On 25 September, about 360 people were sentenced to death or life imprisonment at mass rallies in Hunan province; the official Hunan Daily said 'the gunfire of justice was heard across the province'.

The situation remains severe. On 25 November, 140 executions took place in 17 different cities in Henan province. In some cases, photographs of the 'show sentencings' are put up on display for weeks afterwards as part of local governments' anti-crime campaigns. In Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, photographs from a 10 September sentencing at a sports stadium were displayed prominently in the city centre for at least two months.

The death penalty has played a big part in China's attempts to crack down on corruption, which has become a huge problem given the dash to make money under the economic reforms. Government inefficiency, the importance of guanxi, or connections, and the volume of quasi-official deals make pay-offs a way of life.

Yesterday the official news agency, Xinhua, said that in just one province more than 300,000 officials - a fifth of the total - had been caught misappropriating public funds. It described a power structure in the eastern province of Anhui, one of China's poorest, where officials abused their positions to finance luxurious lives, pay for prostitutes and educate their own children and those of their relatives. Some of the cases went as far back as the 1950s, but most of the officials were disciplined rather than prosecuted, because the most common offence - unauthorised loans from public funds - was technically not illegal.

From a human rights point of view, death sentences are being meted out for many non-violent crimes, such as embezzlement and fraud, that would not warrant capital punishment in most other countries. However, there was also a 17.5 per cent increase in violent crime during the first 10 months of 1993, possibly as a consequence of the increased wealth gap that is opening up.

The President of the Supreme People's Court, Ren Jianxin, last week told a conference of the country's judges that they must deal harshly with 'crimes undermining state security and offences disrupting social order'.

The conference heard that last year more convicted criminals received harsh sentences, but no numbers were made public. Judge Ren also said courts must prepare for 'a surge of prosecutions' for bribery, embezzlement and other economic offences.

Amnesty says the standard of judicial practice remains inadequate in China. Suspects can be detained and interrogated for months, during which they do not have the right to a lawyer; they can be brought to court without having had notice to prepare their defence; and lawyers are severely limited in their right to challenge prosecution evidence. In 1992 China accounted for 63 per cent of the world's executions.

SHANGHAI - A court here jailed two dissidents for leading a 'counter-revolutionary clique', Reuter reports. Yao Kaiwen, a former teacher, was sentenced to ten years and Gao Xiaoliang, a former factory worker, to nine years.

(Photograph omitted)