SAN FRANCISCO (October 20, 2014) — The Dui Hua Foundation estimates that China executed approximately 2,400 people in 2013 and will execute roughly the same number of people in 2014. Annual declines in executions recorded in recent years are likely to be offset in 2014 by the use of capital punishment in anti-terrorism campaigns in Xinjiang and the anti-corruption campaign nationwide.
Dui Hua bases its 2013 estimate on data points published in Southern Weekly that are consistent with information provided to Dui Hua by a judicial official earlier this year.
The mainland magazine reported that a former senior judge of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) stated at a seminar in July that the number of executions had reached one-tenth of the highest number recorded since 1979. In 1983—the first year of the Strike Hard campaign during which the power to approve capital punishment was given to provincial high courts—24,000 people were sentenced to death, according to a report by southcn.com citing The Communist Party of China: Forty Years in Power (Zhongguo gongchandang zhizheng sishi nian). The book called the first year of the Strike Hard campaign the largest centralized attack since the campaign to suppress counterrevolutionaries in 1950.
A judicial official with access to the number of executions carried out each year, which is a state secret, told Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm in early 2014 that the number of executions dropped by around 20 percent in 2013 compared to the previous year. Dui Hua previously estimated that China executed 3,000 people in 2012.
China currently executes more people every year than the rest of the world combined, but it has executed far fewer people since the power of final review of death sentences was returned to the SPC in 2007. Since then, the number of executions nationwide may have dropped by more than a third with declines of nearly 50 percent in some locales, Southern Weeklyreported citing an expert familiar with the court system. Other experts have said that the national figure dropped by 50 percent four years after 2007.
In 2013, 39 percent of all death penalty cases reviewed by the SPC were sent back to provincial high courts for additional evidence, Southern Weekly reported citing an SPC official speaking at a legal seminar. Domestic violence survivor Li Yan(李彦) was among the defendants whose cases lacked sufficient evidence; the verdict against her was ultimately overturned.
The SPC currently overturns fewer than 10 percent of death penalty verdicts, a former SPC senior judge told Southern Weekly. In the years immediately after 2007, the rate was about 15 percent. (This percentage varies considerably by province.)
Between July 2, 2013, and September 30, 2014, the SPC published 152 death penalty review decisions online, Southern Weekly reported in a separate article. The 152 decisions involved 129 murder cases and 17 drug cases. Only five verdicts were fully or partially overturned, and defense lawyers participated in just 13 percent of death penalty reviews. Amendments to Article 240 of the Criminal Procedure Law, effective January 1, 2013, state that if the defense attorney requests, the SPC shall listen to the opinion of the defense attorney during its review.
Provinces with the most review decisions were Yunnan (14), Xinjiang (13), Zhejiang (11), Guangdong (8), and Henan (8). The average time for reviewing a death penalty verdict was six months, with two years as the longest period.