Statistics on capital punishment in China are considered state secrets. Lacking official information, international observers are left to make educated guesses about the number of executions in China. In past years, Dui Hua has based estimates of annual executions on discussions with knowledgeable sources. We have estimated that China carried out nearly 5,000 executions in 2009—a slight decrease from 2008.
Recently, Dui Hua has taken another approach. Beginning with the fourth quarter of 2009, we began systematically collecting reports of executions found online, primarily in Chinese media accounts. For each execution, we recorded basic data such as the name of the condemned, date, location, and criminal charges.
After one year, ending on September 30, we recorded exactly 700 executions in China (see table below). This number serves as an absolute minimum number of executions carried out over the year, and tells us nothing about how many actual executions may have taken place. But even using this lowest figure, China still executed more people than any other country in 2009.
Reporting on executions is restricted in China, and those restrictions can be tightened during some periods and loosened in others. There may be regional variations in reporting, with some locations more “open” than others. For example, we did not record a single report of an execution in Heilongjiang Province and only recorded one execution in Shanghai over the one-year period. This could mean there are fewer executions in Shanghai relative to other parts of China or that there are more restrictions on reporting this kind of news in Shanghai—just as there are, presumably, in places like Xinjiang and Tibet.
Here are some other observations based on the data:
The manufacture, transport, smuggling, or trafficking of illegal drugs account for a significant number of executions reported by Chinese media. Many of these executions took place during the week leading up to the “International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking,” on June 26. That week saw at least 59 individuals put to death in China, and 20 on one day (Friday, June 25).
It appears that courts tend to schedule executions at the end of the week, with at least 54 percent of executions clustered on Thursdays and Fridays. (The number may be even higher, as there are more than 60 reported executions for which a specific day could not be identified.) Likewise, it also seems as if executions are concentrated just prior to two major national holidays—the Spring Festival (which was in early February this year) and the October 1 National Day. (Both are extended holiday periods during which it seems no executions are carried out.)
Ten provinces or provincial-level municipalities account for nearly 60 percent of the national total. Seven of these—Guangdong, Henan, Shandong, Sichuan, Hunan, Anhui, and Hubei—rank among the ten most populated provinces in China.
Many locations—like Liaoning Province and Beijing Municipality—were reported to have completely switched over to lethal injection during the period, though reports from those locations failed to substantiate this switch because the mode of execution was rarely specified. Only about a third of all reports nationwide specified whether execution was carried out by gunshot or lethal injection, but of those that did, lethal injection was reported twice as often.
There were not sufficient numbers of execution reports from regions such as Tibet or Xinjiang to identify either the presence or absence of discrimination against certain ethnic minority offenders with respect to use of capital punishment.
Dui Hua will keep tracking reports of executions in China and will periodically publish its findings in an effort to shed light on the use of capital punishment in the country.