San Francisco (November 28, 2008) – A Chinese court in Beijing today executed a scientist accused of gathering military and political intelligence for Taiwan, The Dui Hua Foundation has confirmed from the man’s relatives.

Family members of Wo Weihan (沃维汉), a 60-year-old biomedical researcher and entrepreneur, were allowed to visit with him at the Beijing Number Two Intermediate People’s Court for about thirty minutes on Thursday, the only chance Wo had been given to meet with his family after being taken into custody by security police in March 2005. Despite being informed that they would be granted another opportunity to meet with Wo, family members learned Friday that he had been transported to a court facility where the execution was carried out.

“We are deeply disappointed by this tragic outcome, and we join with the family in mourning their loss,” said John Kamm, executive director of The Dui Hua Foundation, speaking from New Jersey. “We had hoped that the Supreme People’s Court, in its review of the case, would recognize that such a severe punishment simply didn’t fit the criminal allegations against Wo Weihan. We don’t see how this case meets the threshold of ‘extremely serious or heinous crimes that lead to grave social consequences’ that China has set for capital cases.”

Wo, who holds several patents for biomedical discoveries, spent many years in Europe before returning to China to start a medical equipment business. Two of Wo’s daughters are Austrian citizens. The president of Austria appealed for clemency, as did the European Union presidency and the US State Department. Leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Dui Hua, have highlighted the case as a test of China’s death penalty reform. There has been strong media interest in Wo’s fate.

Denied access to a lawyer for 10 months after his detention, Wo may have been mistreated in detention. After initially being taken into custody, he suffered a stroke and was allowed to return home to recuperate for six weeks before being detained again. Because of his poor health, Wo had been confined to a prison hospital for most of the past three years.

Following a closed trial, the Beijing Number Two Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Wo to death for the crime of espionage on May 27, 2007. According to the verdict, prosecutors alleged that he provided Taiwanese intelligence agents with top-secret military intelligence, some of which consisted of photocopies of publications accessed from the library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences as well as information about the health of a top Chinese leader. The verdict states that Wo provided other intelligence but does not disclose what the intelligence consisted of, presumably because the intelligence itself is top secret.

An alleged co-conspirator, 66-year-old Guo Wanjun (郭万均), was also sentenced to death for the crime of illegally providing state secrets to overseas entities. Both men’s convictions were upheld in February 2008 by the Beijing Higher People’s Court, whereupon the case went before the Supreme People’s Court for final review. Dui Hua has been unable to confirm whether Guo was also executed on Friday, but Wo’s family expressed a belief that both men were executed together.

Sixty-eight separate crimes in China’s criminal code are eligible for the death penalty, including non-violent crimes such as drug trafficking and official corruption. The total number of individuals executed by Chinese courts is considered a state secret, but Dui Hua estimates that between 5,000 and 6,000 executions were carried out in 2007. Chinese legal officials claim that a demand for retributive justice from Chinese society makes abolition of capital punishment a goal for the distant future but impossible at present.

Since the authority over review of all capital cases was restored to the Supreme People’s Court in January 2007, fewer death sentences have been handed down by Chinese courts. According to official statements, the number of executions in 2007 declined by 30 percent compared to the previous year and China’s highest court overturned around 15 percent of capital cases sent by provincial courts for final review during the first half of 2008. A source in the Supreme People’s Court has told Dui Hua the percentage of sentences overturned in the second half of 2008 is expected to be lower than 15 percent.


The Dui Hua Foundation
San Francisco, California
November 28, 2008