China’s authoritarian execution system spares no prisoner

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China has been branded the world’s worst executioner as the state kills thousands of people every year using firing squads, lethal injections and mobile death vans.

The true numbers of those killed by the Communist Party are thought to be staggeringly high – but the regime keeps them closely concealed as state secrets.

Human rights experts told The Sun Online about the vile system which has come into the spotlight again after the killing of Chinese tycoon Lai Xiaomin.

He was executed last month on corruption charges – as in China even white-collar crimes and drug charges can land on death row.

And should you land yourself in the dock be wary, as Chinese prosecutors have a conviction rate of around 99 percent as they doom thousands to execution.

Firing squads and lethal injections are two favourite methods of execution used by China.

Killer jabs were legalized by the regime in the 90s and are sometimes administered in one of the state’s mobile “execution vans”.

Convicts are said to be loaded into a van and strapped to a table where they administered the lethal injection.

Organs are then believed harvested from executed prisoners without any permission for use in medicine and scientific experiments.

Amnesty International has named China as the world’s worst executor by a large margin – with its body count believed to be larger than the rest of the world’s combine total of 657.

Eleven prisoners who were later executed are shown during a sentencing rally in Wenzhou, China on April 7, 2004.
Eleven prisoners who were later executed during a sentencing rally in Wenzhou, China on April 7, 2004.
STR/AFP via Getty Images

While other nations had total figures, China’s shadowy death penalty system left the human rights group only able to offer a grim estimate of “thousands”.

Amnesty’s China researcher Kai Ong told The Sun Online how China often holds mass rallies to announce people being sentenced to death in medieval-style public trials.

Ms Ong said: “The Chinese government still sees the use of the death penalty as an effective deterrent to crimes.  

“Each June, local governments often hold mass sentencing rallies, in which students, teachers and the public are invited to witness the court handing down death penalty to individuals convicted of drug-related crimes.” 

Firing squad executions were meant to have been discontinued in 2010, but there are many examples that this practice continues. 

Gu Kailai (center), who murdered British businessman Neil Heywood stands trial in the courtroom at Hefei Intermediate People's Court in China on August 20, 2012.
Gu Kailai (center), who murdered British businessman Neil Heywood stands trial in the courtroom at Hefei Intermediate People’s Court in China on August 20, 2012.
REUTERS/CCTV via Reuters TV

For example, Zhao Zewei was gunned down after stabbing nine school children to death. 

Lethal injections have taken over as the main form of execution in the People’s Republic due to their cheaper cost and more secretive nature. 

Mobile death vans meanwhile allow the execution of prisoners without having to transport them to jail.

These vehicles were introduced in 2003 and although there have been reports that they are no longer used, Amnesty has said this is not the case. 

With secrecy surrounding the Chinese death vans, victims are not often named due to the speed in which they are tried and executed. 

Chinese officers carry a convicted pirate to court for an appeal trial in Shanwai, China on January 28, 2000.
Chinese officers carry a convicted pirate to court for an appeal trial in Shanwai, China on January 28, 2000.
South China Morning Post via Getty Images)

One of the only victims named as an example was Mafia kingpin Liu Yong, who was given a lethal injection after being tried for wilfully causing harm to others, despite claims his confession was extracted under torture.

Ms. Ong told The Sun Online although the Chinese government claims that fewer people are being executed – this is likely not the case.

What happened to Lai Xiaomin?

  • Lai Xiaomin has become the latest high profile execution in China.
  • The 58-year-old former Chinese state asset manager was killed for soliciting $300 million in bribes between 2008 to 2018.
  • He was also accused of starting a secret family while married to his “loyal wife” – allegations that made it onto his execution charge sheet. Lai was convicted for bigamy and corruption.
  • Death sentences for white-collar crime are part and parcel of the Chinese justice system.
  • The banker confessed of state television as he reportedly stockpiled luxury cars and gold bars through his role at China’s state banking regulator.
  • Beijing is taking an increasingly tough stance on corporate wrongdoing as the Communist Party endorsed the use of the death penalty for Lai. 
  • “The amount of bribes received by Lai Xiaomin was extremely large, the crime’s circumstances were particularly serious and the social impact was particularly severe,” China’s Supreme People’s Court said.
  • It did not say how Lai was executed, but said he was allowed to meet with close relatives before his death.
Prisoner Liu Tianlong is paraded  in front of thousands of spectators who turned up to watch public executions at Chengdu, China on June 23, 2001.
Prisoner Liu Tianlong is paraded in front of thousands of spectators who turned up to watch public executions at Chengdu, China on June 23, 2001.
STR/AFP via Getty Images

The expert added: “Although the Chinese government follows the policy of killing fewer, killing cautiously, it also sees the use of the death penalty as an effective deterrent to serious crimes, especially drug-related crimes. 

“The Chinese authorities continue to impose death sentences and carry out executions for a wide range of offenses, including drug-related offenses, that do not meet the threshold of the ‘most serious crimes’, to which the death penalty must be restricted under international human rights law. 

“It is unlikely that the number of new death sentences and executions will go down significantly in the near future.” 

And the lack of public outcry on the death penalty in China may not even be due to state secrecy. 

Prof William Schabas, author of Amnesty’s death penalty report, told The Sun Online how members of the public in China simply aren’t that bothered by it, and are even in support of it. 

He told us: “Public opinion is still quite positive about the death penalty. 

Chinese police paraded various prisoners during an execution rally at a stadium in Kunming, China on June 26, 2001.
Chinese police paraded various prisoners during an execution rally at a stadium in Kunming, China on June 26, 2001.
STR/AFP via Getty Images

“If you do a survey you’ll find there’s a significant majority of people who are in favor of the death penalty.” 

Xiaomin, a delegate of the People’s Congress, is far from the first high profile Chinese official to have been executed in China in recent times. 

Former Communist Party chief of a Chinese Village Cai Dongjia was executed in 2019, after being branded the “Chinese godfather of crystal meth”. 

Chinese politician and senior lawmaker Duan Yihe was executed after killing his mistress in a car bomb and embezzling around £400,000. 

China was also the first country to carry out a coronavirus related execution.

Last year, Ma Jinguo was executed after killing two government officials at a coronavirus checkpoint. 

Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg attends his retrial at the Dalian Intermediate People's Court in Dalian, China on Jan. 14, 2019.
Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg attends his retrial at the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court in Dalian, China on Jan. 14, 2019.
CCTV via AP, File

And meanwhile, Canadian citizen Robert Lloyd Schellenberg remains on death row after being sentenced to death for drug smuggling.

Canada is fighting against his execution as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Communist Party of “arbitrary” use of the death penalty.

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