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November 27 2007 | CHINA


China commuting more death sentences, judge says


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China commuting more death sentences, judge says
    BEIJING, - For the first time in its
modern history, China has commuted more death sentences this
year than it has carried out, the country's top judge said.
    International rights groups estimate that China executes
more people than any other country. But Beijing has been slowly
reforming the death penalty system after several high-profile
wrongful convictions raised public anger.
    "The number of death sentences has been gradually
decreasing and human rights are being better protected," Chief
Justice Xiao Yang told a conference on court reform, the China
Daily reported.
    He gave no figures. The Communist authorities regard the
number of executions as a state secret.
    But Xiao said so far in 2007 the number of criminals given
death sentences with a two-year reprieve, which usually becomes
life imprisonment, had exceeded the total of immediate
    Capital punishment should be reserved for "an extremely
small number of serious offenders", the paper quoted him as
saying on Friday. "The judicial reform process has been
progressing smoothly, with leniency shown in a growing number
of criminal trials."
    Last Jan. 1 the Supreme People's Court took back its power
of final approval for death penalties, relinquished to
provincial high courts in a crime-fighting campaign in the
    Up to October, the number of death sentences immediately
carried out in Jiangxi province had halved from the same period
last year, the president of the provincial high court, Kang
Weimin, told the conference.
    Among those executed this year was Zheng Xiaoyu, the former
head of the food and drug safety watchdog, who was put to death
for taking bribes to renew drugs licences.
 (Reporting by Alan Wheatley; editing by Roger Crabb)
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