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Death penalty cases to be heard in open court
Updated: 2006-03-12 09:27

China is to allow death penalty cases to be heard in open court beginning this year, its top judge said, in a move that may reduce the number of executions.

Xiao Yang, president of the Supreme People's Court, spoke to the country’s people’s congress now in session in Beijing Saturday that open trials would be allowed and practiced in all appeal hearings.

Death penalty cases to be heard in open court
Xiao Yang, president of the Supreme People's Court, delivers a work report to the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Saturday March 11, 2006. Six provincial-level or ministerial-level officials were sentenced to prison for corruption in 2005, said Xiao. [Xinhua]

"As of July 1, 2006, all the second-instance trials of death sentence cases shall be heard in open court," he said in his annual work report delivered to the top parliament, the National People's Congress.

The country's highest court would also take steps to take back the power to review death sentences from provincial courts that previously had the final word, he said.

The move appears to be a response to Chinese media reports in recent years which exposed a few questionable or even wrongful death penalty sentences, sparking public debate, especially among academics who began lobbying for change, analysts say.

On Saturday, a spokesman with the Supreme People’s Court, said that China, for the moment, does not have the right conditions for abolishing capital punishment.

Sun Huapu said that China is among the more than half of the nations in the world that have insisted on the death penalty, which has drawn some criticism from international human rights organizations. It is a global trend that the controversial practice of executing heinous criminals will be gradually reduced until it is abolished in the world, he said.

Sun noted that in China the public still believes in the principle that "a killer should pay the victim with his life."

But the spokesman said China has exerted strict control over the death penalty, ensuring that only a very small number of criminals committing extremely severe crimes be executed. In China, capital punishment falls into two categories -- a death penalty with the criminal to be executed immediately after the sentencing, and death with a two-year probation.

Xiao indicated in his report that there would be no relaxation in China's tough stance against crime. In 2006, China is to persist in the Strike Hard (anti-crime) campaign, strictly punish crimes such as murder and robbery, as well as drug trafficking.

Last year, courts sentenced 844,717 people to prison, an increase of 10 percent from 2004, Xiao said. Of 321,395 sentenced for serious crimes, 131,869 received penalties ranging from five years in jail to the death penalty, said Xiao.

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