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Death Penalty for Corruption to Remain for now

Officials with the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislative body have denied discussions are under way to abolish the use of capital punishment for those involved in serious economic crimes.

Punishments for such non-violent offenses have long been in the legal limelight in China with many speculating legislators would move to abolish the most serious punishment under the law - the death penalty - in the most egregious cases.

The speculation, countered in statements by Premier Wen Jiabao, remains inconsistent with the current domestic criminal legislative and jurisdictional practices. It also does not reflect the current fundamental realities in the country, officials said, echoing Wen.

A spokesman for the Supreme People's Court explained that though the death penalty will for the long term be preserved, application of the punishment is under tighter scrutiny than ever to reduce the number of death sentences. Courts are acting cautiously when conducting trials on those possibly facing the penalty.

According to Chinese Criminal Law, the death penalty applies only to those criminals committing extremely serious crimes while those who are not subject to immediate execution may be sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve.

Specifically, embezzlement conducted with more than 100,000 yuan (US$ 12,353) is subject to no less than 10 years in prison or life imprisonment with property confiscated while those with particularly serious circumstances can be executed. The circumstances of the crimes are taken into account.

In addition, capital punishment must also undergo further judicial review after first and second instance trial procedures to guarantee accurate applications of death penalties.

The spokesman also pinpointed firm legal convictions of high-ranking corrupt offenders without mercy regardless of their posts or contributions. Hu Changqing, former deputy governor of south China's Jiangxi Province, was sentenced to death with immediate execution for embezzlement of 5.44 million yuan (US$ 672,028) in 2003, marking the death of the highest ranking official sentenced to death since the establishment of the country.

With more and more countries having abolished the death penalty or making efforts to reform the punishment, its abolishment has become a hot issue under discussion in criminal law both home and abroad. Some domestic pundits believe it may be abandoned some day in China except for impossible immediate abolition due to the current fundamental reality of our country.

Wen pledged cautious and just trials in such cases at his press conference after the conclusion of the 2005 National People's Congress and the People's Political Consultative Conference last spring, noting that capital punishment can't be wiped out in China now due to current fundamental situations the nation faces.

(China Daily September 3, 2005)

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