Wednesday, April 27, 2016

China’s Average “Death Row” Prisoner Waits 2 Months for Execution

A court official reads a decision confirming sentence to a death row inmate.

In the United States, men and women sentenced to death typically await execution in “death row” sections of state and federal prisons. Due to complex and time-consuming appeals procedures, that wait can be quite long, averaging roughly 15 years, according to government statistics. This has led to arguments that the “death row phenomenon”—execution after extended delay under the harsh regime applied to condemned prisoners—constitutes cruel and inhumane punishment outlawed under international law.

Though China continues to make liberal use of the death penalty—executing more people than the rest of the world combined—the Chinese public is less aware of “death row.” In part, this is because individuals are not transferred to prisons but remain in detention centers during the period between sentencing and execution. There, they are often housed alongside other detainees rather than being segregated into special units. People sentenced to death often stand out, however, because of the shackles on their hands and feet.

Another reason why China is not typically thought to have a “death row” is because people spend relatively less time awaiting execution. Though there can be lengthy delays while cases bounce back and forth between intermediate courts of first instance and provincial courts of appeal, the wait becomes much shorter once the death sentence is sent to the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) for review and approval.

Just how long or short this wait is remains shrouded in the cloak of secrecy that surrounds many other aspects of the death penalty in China. More detail has become available since the SPC started routinely publishing review decisions on its website in July 2013. The court still has quite a way to go in terms of disclosing information about capital punishment, but even the rather limited information it publishes provides some insight into opaque territory.

As a demonstration, Dui Hua recently reviewed roughly 500 SPC review decisions in an attempt to answer a surprisingly complicated question: How long do Chinese “death row” prisoners wait between the time their sentences are approved by the SPC and execution?

In all, these decisions concerned 525 individuals and were handed down between April 2011 and November 2015. Most of the decisions were from 2013–2015, with 2014 accounting for more than half of the total (see table below). The SPC rejected the death sentences given to only 11 individuals, leaving 514 facing execution.

Supreme People’s Court Death Penalty Review Decisions, Apr 2011- Nov 2015
Year issued No. of individuals w/ sentences reviewed Death penalty rejected Execution publicly reported
2015 115 3 22
2014 283 4 41
2013 121 4 37
2012 4 0 1
2011 2 0 1
TOTAL 525 11 102

It can be assumed that all of these individuals have been or will be executed, but in order to confirm exact dates, Dui Hua drew upon public execution reports. Doing so, Dui Hua was able to confirm the executions of 102 of the 514 individuals whose death sentences were approved by the SPC. In other words, no public record of any execution could be found for 80 percent of those whose sentences received final approval. An even smaller fraction of those whose executions were logged by Dui Hua have had their court decisions made public on the SPC website.

Based on Dui Hua analysis of the SPC decisions, China’s average “death row” prisoner can expect to wait roughly two months from the time the court approves their death sentence to the time of execution. But this period can vary considerably, with a small handful of people waiting more than 200 days and others waiting less than a week. Based on our sample, the median length of time on “death row” was 50 days.

This suggests that there is often a gap between the time that the SPC finishes its review and the time that highest court’s president signs a warrant of execution. This is clear because, under the Criminal Procedure Law, courts are required to carry out the death penalty within seven days of receiving such a warrant. The only statutory grounds for altering this strict timeline are when: 1) there is evidence of a possible error in the original judgment; 2) the person sentenced to death provides evidence of other crimes or performs other acts of major meritorious service that could result in leniency; or 3) the person sentenced to death is discovered to be pregnant.

The speed with which execution is carried out may be associated with certain individuals or crimes. For example, all 16 Uyghurs in the sample had their executions for terrorist activity carried out between five and nine days after the SPC approved their sentences. This means that warrants for execution had to have been issued more or less simultaneously with the court’s decision to approve capital punishment. The wait was also very brief for Xu Maiyong (eight days) and Liu Han (13 days). Xu was the former vice-mayor of Hangzhou who was executed for corruption in 2011. Liu was a politically connected business figure executed in 2015 for allegedly leading an organized crime syndicate in Sichuan.

In fact, the timing of executions may be tied to the social and political value of their publicity. Most of the Uyghurs were executed after region-wide mass rallies were covered widely in the national press in 2014 in an apparent attempt to show government resolve to combat violent terrorism. The April 2014 execution of Wang Yunsheng, only five days after SPC approval of his death sentence for murdering a doctor, appears to have been timed to coincide with the release of a judicial opinion on stricter punishment for crimes against medical practitioners.

Timeliness can also mean longer periods in custody. People who commit drug offenses sometimes wait for weeks or even months after their sentences have been approved, apparently in order for their execution to herald the “International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking” commemorated on June 26.

These cases are relatively easy to single out precisely because reporting on the death penalty in China is very selective and incomplete. Most cases receive no publicity at all, while others are used to send messages to the public. By virtue of being reported in some way, the executions reviewed here are more likely to have been carried out according to a schedule not simply determined by the judicial process. Were China to report information about death penalty cases more routinely, it would be possible to test the results of this dataset and learn more about the final days on China’s “death row.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

China State Security Trials Fell 50 Percent in 2015, Official Data Suggest

Pu Zhiqiang (pictured above) was arrested for "inciting splittism", but convicted of "inciting ethnic hatred" and "picking quarrels and provoking trouble". Source: CCTV, DW-TV

Chinese courts concluded 50 percent fewer endangering state security (ESS) trials in 2015, according to Dui Hua’s analysis of data released in the annual work report of China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC). Dui Hua believes the decline represents an increase in the use of non-ESS charges to prosecute political and religious activism.

Dui Hua estimates that Chinese courts concluded more than 500 ESS trials of the first instance in 2015, compared with more than 1,000 ESS trials in 2014. Delivered to the National People’s Congress by SPC President Zhou Qiang on March 13, 2016, the annual work report includes ESS and endangering national defense (END) crimes in a category of “Other” trials. The category comprised 0.06 percent of first-instance criminal trials in 2015, compared with 0.13 percent in 2014. Based on an accounting of all of the crime categories in China’s Criminal Law and historical data on END trials, Dui Hua believes that the “Other” category is primarily populated by ESS cases—according to China Law Yearbook, only 243 END trials were concluded in 2014.

ESS crimes, which include subversion, inciting subversion, splittism, espionage, and state secrets violations, carry a mandatory supplemental sentence of deprivation of political rights (DPR). This sentence precludes individuals from writing articles, giving interviews, voting, standing for office, and working in a state-owned company.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region typically accounts for the largest percentage of ESS trials of any Chinese region. According to the annual work report of the Xinjiang High People's Court, courts in the autonomous region heard approximately 100 ESS trials in 2015, down from about 300 trials per year in 2014 and 2013. The same work report reveals that trials for the category of crimes that cover "terrorism" surged about 25 percent respectively in 2015. Dui Hua believes that many of the trials for cult and terrorism crimes had previously been handled as ESS trials.

As previously reported by Dui Hua, ESS indictments by procuratorates in 2014 rose to a record level since the criminal category was introduced in 1997: 1,411 people were indicted in 663 cases. In light of the sharp drop in ESS trials in 2015, Dui Hua expects that ESS indictments also fell by a significant margin last year. The numbers are expected to be released later this year when the 2016 China Law Yearbook is published.

ESS “and Other” Trials

Pu Zhiqiang’s recent conviction is a prominent example of the uncertainty with which the justice system categorizes political activities as endangering state security. Police initially charged Pu with the ESS crime of “inciting splittism” for criticizing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on his microblog. However, his conviction at trial was ultimately for the non-ESS crimes of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Although Pu was given a suspended sentence, he is not a free man—he continues to serve a sentence through compulsory measures and will be subject to various regulations, the violation of which could result in his future detention.

Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database (PPDB) records the names of 19 people tried for ESS crimes in 2015. Mettursun Eziz was sentenced in May to four years in prison and three years deprivation of political rights (DPR) for inciting splittism. The Henan Nanyang Intermediate People’s Court found that he used voice-messaging apps like WeChat to download a large number of “extreme religious materials” produced by the East Turkestan Islamic Party (ETIP). Mettursun Eziz is scheduled for release on April 2, 2018.

In perhaps the most widely reported ESS trial of 2015, prominent journalist Gao Yu (高瑜) was sentenced to seven years in prison for leaking state secrets in April. Observers have attributed the charges to the leaking of “Document Number 9,” an internal CCP manifesto that rails against democracy, civil society, and universal values like human rights. In November, the Beijing High People’s Court reduced Gao’s sentence to a five-year term and allowed the 71-year-old to serve the remainder of her term outside prison.

In December, the Nanyang Intermediate People’s Court sentenced prominent religious figure Li Baocheng (李保成) to four years in prison for inciting subversion and fraud. Henan’s Dahe Daily accused the 77-year-old of extortion for charging “baptism fees.” Li was also found guilty of discussing plans to establish a new political party to challenge the CCP.

2015 First Instance Trials for ESS Cases in the Dui Hua PPDB
Name Sex Crime 1st instance Trial Date 1st Instance Verdict
Du X
M Inciting subversion 12/15/2015 10 Months, 1 Yr DPR
Gao Yu
F Illegally procuring/trafficking in state secrets/intelligence for foreign entities 04/17/2015 7 Yrs, 1 Yr DPR
Han X
M Illegally procuring/trafficking in state secrets/intelligence for foreign entities 01/29/2015 8 Yrs, 4 Yrs DPR
Li Baocheng
M Inciting subversion 12/15/2015 4 Yrs, 2 Yrs DPR
Li X
M Inciting subversion 12/15/2015 1 Yr, 1 Yr DPR
Liang Qinhui
M Inciting subversion 11/13/2015 Unknown
Liu Chao
M Inciting subversion 01/27/2015 1 Yr (DPR Unknown)
Liu Jiacai
M Inciting subversion 05/08/2015 5 Yrs, 3 Yrs DPR
Mettursun Eziz
M Inciting splittism 03/17/2015 4 Yrs, 3 Yrs DPR
F Inciting splittism 12/21/2015 5 Yrs, 2 Yrs DPR
Qamber Amber
M Inciting splittism 03/21/2015 9 Yrs (DPR unknown)
Wang Mo
M Inciting subversion 11/19/2015 Unkown
Xie Fengxia
M Inciting subversion 11/19/2015 Unknown
Yang Mingyu
M Inciting subversion 09/23/2015 3 Yrs, 4 Yrs DPR
Yang X
M Inciting subversion 12/15/2015 1.5 Yrs, 1 Yr DPR
Yang X
M Inciting subversion 12/15/2015 10 Months, 1 Yr DPR
Zhang Rongping 张荣平 M Inciting subversion 11/13/2015 Unknown
Zhang X
M Illegally procuring/trafficking in state secrets/intelligence for foreign entities 02/12/2015 6 Yrs, 1 Yr DPR
Zhao X
M Illegally procuring/trafficking in state secrets/intelligence for foreign entities 01/2015 7 Yrs, 2 Yrs DPR