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Criminal Justice

English | 中文

When there is little presumption of innocence and much support for retributive justice, everyone in conflict with the law is at risk. In order to protect internationally recognized human rights and ensure the humanitarian treatment of people at odds with the law, Dui Hua focuses on criminal justice issues ranging from criminal procedures to capital punishment.

Criminal Procedure Law

Dui Hua has paid particular attention to reform of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL). For the first time in 16 years, the National People’s Congress passed amendments to the law on March 14, 2012. Effective January 1, 2013, the law strengthens procedural protections for the vast majority of suspects and defendants, while further consolidating a separate, less-regulated criminal justice system for those accused of state security offenses—often used against people exercising their rights to free speech and association. Of the most worrying distinctions in treatment for political prisoners are the “disappearance clauses,” which allow those accused of state security offenses to be held in an undisclosed location for up to six months.

Generally positive aspects of the amended law include new provisions for:

  • Death penalty cases: expanded access to legal aid, recorded interrogations, longer trials, mandatory appellate hearings, and more rigorous death penalty review
  • Compulsory medical treatment: determined by courts, overseen by procuratorates
  • Non-custodial measures: increased use of bail and similar measures, procuratorial review of detention
  • Women: allowing those with life terms to serve outside prison while pregnant, nursing
  • Juvenile justice: record sealing, deferred prosecution

Death Penalty Reform

Estimated No. of Executions in China
2002 12,000
2003 10,000
2004 10,000
2005 8,000
2006 7,000
2007 6,500
2008 5,000
2009 5,000
2010 5,000
2011 4,000
2012 3,000
2013 2,400
2016 2,000

Dui Hua has actively promoted China’s death penalty reform since 2007, when Executive Director John Kamm chaired a plenary session on China at the World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Paris. Kamm discusses death penalty reform in direct dialogue with members of China’s judiciary and also provides consultation to foreign governments, the United Nations, and nongovernmental organizations.

Dui Hua regularly publishes estimates of the number of executions in China, while the actual number remains a state secret. The number of executions has dropped significantly since the Supreme People’s Court regained the power to review all death sentences in 2007. A frequent commentator on death penalty issues across the globe and within China, The Economist has called Dui Hua’s research on the number of executions in China “the best figures available”.

Dui Hua estimates that China executed approximately 2,400 people in 2013 and will execute roughly the same number of people in 2014, based on data points published in Southern Weekly and information provided to Dui Hua by a judicial official. 2014 is unlikely to show a downward trend in capital punishment as reductions in other areas are likely to be offset by an uptick in death sentences handed down during the anti-terrorism campaign in Xinjiang and the nationwide campaign against corruption.

In early 2017, the foundation estimated that there had been 2,000 executions in 2016. Dui Hua’s death penalty log was expanded in 2016 with the acquisition of materials from a Supreme People’s Court website that recorded the results of death penalty reviews from 2013 to 2015. In April 2016, Dui Hua – using its internal log – determined that the average length of time a person sentenced to death waits until execution is two months. This period, longer than originally expected, provides those seeking to intervene in death penalty cases a window within which to carry out interventions.

Find out more about capital punishment in Digest and Human Rights Journal