China's legal experts and the public consider the execution of former drug chief Zheng Xiaoyu to be fully deserved given his shocking dereliction of duty, but many are also warning that China needs to be cautious in handing out death penalties.
Cui Min, a professor at the Chinese People's University of Public Security, said the consequences of Zheng's dereliction of duty were extremely serious, and the court's ruling had sound legal justification.
Zheng, 63, former director of China's State Food and Drug Administration, was executed on Tuesday morning for taking 6.49 million yuan (US$850,000) in bribes and dereliction of duty.
Whether Zheng's death sentence was too harsh is being heatedly debated.
"Given that bribery alone is punishable by death under Chinese law, Zheng deserved the death sentence," said Cui.
Moreover, Zheng's actions put health and life in danger, and shook trust in the government's competence.
Six types of medicine approved by the administration during his tenure were fake, one of which -- an antibiotic injection -- caused the deaths of at least six people and severe reactions in more than 80 others.
"There's no need to waste bullets on him. Just feed him the fake medicines he approved. That'll kill him," said one angry net surfer on sohu.com.
On the other hand, Chinese criminal law takes a much more hard-nosed attitude to capital punishment than other countries. Over 100 countries have abolished the death penalty. Those that have retained the penalty only have 3 to 5, or at most 7 to 8 crimes that are punishable by death. In China, however, 68 crimes can lead to capital punishment, Cui said.
"The international trend is to limit death sentences. China should apply the death penalty less extensively," Cui said.
The death sentence for corrupt officials gives rise to difficulties in international cooperation in the fight against crime. Many corrupt officials manage to escape capital punishment by absconding abroad. The countries where they reside often refuse to extradite criminals to China for fear they may be executed.
"As a result, only those unable to go abroad are executed, whereas major criminals who escape overseas can evade the just punishment. Justice is not served over such circumstances," Cui said.
Furthermore, while it is understandable that angry citizens demand the death penalty for corrupt officials, executing malfeasants needs to be carefully considered, Cui said.
"In dealing with matters of life or death, it is the law, not people's outrage that justifies the death sentence," Cui said, adding that China should seriously consider reforming the death penalty.
The anti-corruption battle is complex, requiring sustained and systematic efforts. Killing a bunch of offenders is not the solution, said Cui.
Cui said China should consider joining the growing world trend toward the abolition of death penalty.
China should first amend its criminal law and reduce the number of capital crimes from 68 to 8. The court should be extremely cautious in handing out death sentences. Should there be any doubts about whether death is the appropriate penalty, the execution should always be dropped, suggested Cui.
"Currently, most Chinese people are unwilling to accept the abolition of the death penalty. But as the country moves forward and becomes more open, people will eventually change their minds," said Cui.
In fact, China began reforming laws relating to capital punishment at the beginning of the year.
On Jan. 1, 2007, the Supreme People's Court (SPC) recovered the right to review all death penalty decisions made by lower courts, ending its 24-year absence in approving China's execution verdicts.
The immediate result was a drop of 10 percent in the number of death sentences in the first five months of 2007 compared with the same period last year.
In June, China further pledged to make its death penalty system more transparent, demanding that more trials that could result in a death sentence be held in public. China's courts started recruiting more staff for death penalty reviews.
The Supreme People's Court is determined to ensure a balanced and standardized approach to the death penalty across the country.
(Xinhua News Agency July 13, 2007)