A proposed amendment to China's criminal law that would reduce the number of crimes punishable by death [Xinhua report] was presented Monday to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) [official website, in Chinese]. The current criminal code in China outlines 68 criminal offenses that carry the death penalty. If adopted, the proposed legislation would eliminate death sentences for 13 non-violent economic crimes, including smuggling and fraud-related activities, and would be the first time the number of crimes carrying the death penalty has been reduced since the enactment of China's criminal law in 1979. The amendment also proposes expanding capital punishment exceptions to criminals over the age of 75. Previously, only pregnant women and criminal offenders under the age of 18 were exempt from the death penalty. The proposed legislation is the latest move by the Chinese government to reduce the number of death sentences ordered by the country's courts.
Earlier this year, the Supreme People's Court of China [official website, in Chinese] issued new guidelines for limiting capital punishment [JURIST report] in Chinese courts. The guidelines instruct courts to issue the death penalty only to those who commit "extremely serious" crimes. However, the guidelines also state that reprieves should be issued in certain cases as allowed by law. The consistent use of the death penalty in China has been met with significant criticism from anti-death penalty advocates. Anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain [advocacy website] has said that China, Iran and Iraq account for more death penalties [advocacy report] than any other country. According to the group, in 2009, China executed about 5,000 people, or 88 percent of the world's total.