Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Capital Punishment Capitol

With Governor Bill Richardson banning capital punishment last week in New Mexico, the United States is once again questioning the morality of the practice of state-sponsored killing of criminals for their infractions.

Don't expect any such moratorium from China.

From Bloomberg:

Photo of Zheng Xiaoyu from Reuters

March 24 (Bloomberg) -- China carried out more executions than the rest of the world put together last year, Amnesty International said today as it pushed for nations to abolish capital punishment.

Of 2,390 recorded executions in 25 nations, 72 percent, or at least 1,718, were in China, the London-based human rights group said in a report. Amnesty didn’t give comparable data from previous years.

“The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment,” said Irene Khan, Amnesty’s secretary general. “Beheadings, electrocutions, hangings, lethal injections, shootings and stonings have no place in the 21st century.”

China, along with the U.S., Iran, North Korea and Sudan, objected in November when the United Nations General Assembly voted to support a global moratorium on the death penalty. The government in Beijing said in a policy paper last year that while it retains the death penalty, it has a policy of “killing fewer with caution” and exercises strict controls.

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In discussion classes with both teenagers and adults in the past, I've brought up the topic of whether capital punishment is actually a just form of punishment. The answer from my Chinese students has been a resounding "yes." In fact, I don't believe I've ever heard any Chinese person say that they disagree with the practice.

Surely, part of this reason is because of the "No why situation" which was discussed the other day in my post on China's culture of cheating. Chinese people probably don't realize that there is a debate about whether capital punishment is a good thing or not. They just know that it happens to criminals in China. They've surely been told, either explicitly or implicitly, that it deters crime and is the best policy for dealing with those who've committed serious crimes.

One thing that amazes me about China's capital punishment policy is how swift the whole process is.

In early 2007, China's top drug regulator, Zheng Xiaoyu, was found guilty of accepting $800,000 in bribes and allowing pharmaceutical companies to sidestep regulations. A score of people worldwide died as a result.

Zheng was found guilty by the Chinese court system on May 29, 2007. Zheng was then executed on July 10, 2007. He had a little more than a month between sentencing and execution.

The Chinese aren't messing around when it comes to carrying out death penalties. Unlike the US, which hears appeal after appeal, justice is very quick here in the Middle Kingdom.

I don't want to get too into the morality of the death penalty. It is a complicated topic that is worthy of a greater discussion than I'm giving it here right now. All I'll say is that I find it refreshing that more and more states in the US are questioning the practice and outlawing it (or at least putting a moratorium on it). It'd be great if China started moving away from the practice more too.

1 comment:

Taylor O said...

That mobile death bus I mentioned before is still haunting me.


I think the question of the death penalty morality amongst differing types and levels of protection of individuals in legal systems to be interesting.

For example, putting a journalist in jail for political reasons for example is atrocious and sending one a bus ride like this even more so as opposed to putting a Timothy McVeigh or Charles Manson type to death.

While some may be pro death penalty, its prerequisite is a high level legal system that protect individual rights through due process very well. Without it, I think we all would fear the results.