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Nation mulls end of death penalty for some crimes

China Daily, November 26, 2014 Adjust font size:

Protecting human rights

Ruan Qilin, a professor of law at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, was of the same opinion. He said the reduction in the number of crimes subject to the death penalty will also serve to better protect human rights.

"Capital punishment will not be abolished in our country in the near future, but the reduction is being pushed forward regardless. Illegal fundraising just damages money, so it's unreasonable to punish the fundraisers by taking their lives," he said.

According to Wang Shaoguang, the lawyer who represented Zeng Chengjie, the charge of illegal fundraising has long been a controversial one "because sometimes the victims didn't pay attention to the funding risks, and simply wanted to make bigger profits.

"Some people were angry after they suffered economic losses, and rushed to ask the government for help, bringing the illegal operations to the attention of the authorities. Of course, the fundraisers defrauded the investors, but in the beginning, those same investors were lured by higher rates of interest and profit, and they failed to pay attention to the risks inherent in fundraising," he said.

"I agree with abolishing the death penalty for this charge, but what I care about more is legal clarification of this crime, whether it is tenable and should actually exist at all," he said, adding that lawyers can learn from observing cases of this nature which will help to improve the law.

"If a fundraiser is sentenced to death, the victims still won't be reimbursed," he said, and urged local governments to mediate with defrauded investors to resolve any conflicts.

"Punishing the fundraiser is just one part of the issue. The other part is working out how to aid the victims and help them to obtain compensation, which would be better for society stability, and would regulate the loan market," he said.

The amendment is likely to be ratified in February or March at the earliest, "and I hope the reduction in the number of crimes subject to capital punishment will boost our criminal law and make punishments scientific and reasonable", Wang added.

Zeng Shan echoed Wang, saying she is looking forward to seeing the revision and an improvement in China's criminal law.

"I'm reluctant to remember the summer of 2013, because I have had to force myself to get my life back on track, but I am following the progress of the proposal very closely," the sales representative from Hunan said.

"I hope those in similar circumstances to my father's won't face such an extreme punishment in the future."

Suggested change sparks legal debate

The proposal to abolish the death penalty for the crime of coercing women into prostitution aroused controversy when the issue was discussed at a bimonthly session of the National People's Congress, China's top legislative body.

According to some of the legal experts at the meeting, the damage that results from forcing people into prostitution is not as severe as that caused by some other violent offenses, such as murder or intentional injury, and they felt it would be right to abolish the death penalty for coercion.

Zhao Bingzhi, a professor of criminal law research at Beijing Normal University, said the move to reduce the number of crimes subject to capital punishment is intended to protect human rights, and is one of the aims of China's ongoing reform of the judicial system.

Lawmakers have already abolished the death penalty for so-called economic crimes, and the latest proposal may accelerate the process whereby the punishment is abolished completely, Zhao said.

However, Xu Zhenchao, a member of the nation's top legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, countered the argument. He said the threat of coercion would continue to hang over women if the death penalty isn't retained.

Tang Shili, another NPC member, echoed Xu's sentiments, saying that the ways in which offenders force women into prostitution are almost always cruel and thus constitute abuse, so the crime should still be subject to the most-severe punishment the law can provide.

In September, the Hunan Provincial High People's Court overturned death sentences handed down to two men, Zhou Junhui and Qin Xing, who had been convicted of rape, organizing prostitution and forcing women into prostitution.

The court ruled that the men's crimes didn't warrant the death penalty, and commuted their sentences to life imprisonment.

Li Jianming, a professor of law at Nanjing Normal University, accepted that freed from the threat of execution, some offenders would continue to coerce women, but said many of them pressured their victims in non-violent ways, and the harsh punishment would be inapproriate.

He said that even if the penalty were to be abolished for coercion, offenders who killed or physically harmed their victims could be charged with homicide or causing intentional injury, both of which still carry the threat of capital punishment.

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