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China drops death penalty for 13 non-violent crimes

The standing committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC) [official website] on Friday amended the national criminal law to remove 13 offenses from the list of crimes subject to the death penalty [JURIST news archive]. Those removed are non-violent economic crimes [Xinhua report] and include smuggling cultural relics, precious metals and rare animals; fraudulent activities with financial bills and letters of credit; fraudulent export tax refunds; teaching of crime-committing methods; and robbing ancient cultural ruins. The amendment also restricts death sentences issued to persons over 75 and is the first amendment [China Daily report] of death penalty crimes since 1979. Notably, some economic crimes, including corruption [JURIST report], were not removed from the list, and the death penalty enjoys wide public support in China [AP report]. The amendment, which will take effect on May 1, is the latest move by the Chinese government to reduce the number of death sentences ordered by the country's courts.

The amendment was originally proposed [JURIST report] in August, and Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] has criticized the measure as legal housekeeping because the crimes are rarely punished by execution [BBC report]. AI estimates that China executes thousands of people every year—more than the rest of the world combined—but the actual figure is a closely guarded state secret. Last February, the Supreme People's Court of China [official website, in Chinese] issued new guidelines for limiting capital punishment [JURIST report] in Chinese courts to "extremely serious" crimes.

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About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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