Senior court official says China to continue death penalty reform

BEIJING - China's top court said it would study ways of further reducing the number of crimes punishable by death, in an effort to reform a segment of Chinese law widely criticised by international rights groups.

Activists say China uses capital punishment more than any other country, raising public concern of irreversible miscarriages of justice.

In October, the National People's Congress, China's parliament, began reviewing a policy to trim nine crimes from the list of offences subject to the death penalty. Those reforms have yet to be finalised. [ID:nL4N0SM0S9]

Hu Yunteng, a senior researcher at the Supreme People's Court, told a meeting of academics on Saturday that China would deepen death penalty reform.

"[Officials] must thoroughly study how to reduce death penalty crimes, and progressively limit and reduce the scope of the use of the death penalty," the People's Court Daily on Sunday cited Hu as saying.

The use of the death penalty must be "100 per cent accurate and guard against any false or unjust charges", Hu said, adding that the role of lawyers must be ensured and the human rights of defendants respected.

Officials have previously said China would review the use of the death penalty, which applies to 55 offences, including fraud and illegal money-lending.

China guards the number of people executed every year as state secrets.

The San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, which seeks the release of political prisoners in China, estimated that 2,400 people were executed in 2013. By comparison, 39 people were executed in 2013 in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Last week, state media said a court in Inner Mongolia would reconsider a 1996 rape and murder case which may have led to the execution of the wrong man.

Huugjilt, 18 at the time, was put to death a month after being sentenced, the official Xinhua news agency said. Years after his execution, another man confessed to the murder.

The ruling Communist Party, worried about rising social unrest and anger over land grabs, corruption and pollution, has vowed to carry out legal reforms.

Experts, however, have said the reduction in death penalty crimes is not expected to greatly lower the number of executions per year.