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Old 03-20-2005, 07:57 PM
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Unhappy China - Death Vans for Speedy Executions

CHINA (March 20):

Chinese execute with 'death vans'

The death van is an inconspicuous blue-and-white police vehicle that parks near the courtroom when its services are required by the Chinese judicial system.

Inside it is fitted with a couch that can be raised or lowered like an operating table, set in the middle of the floor. There is space on either side for the bailiff, the court medical expert and one or 2 policemen to hold down the condemned man.

A lethal injection is then administered in a 2-stage process by the medical expert, who in some cases may be a qualified doctor, and the bailiff. The process is swift and efficient, according to a policeman who has witnessed the vans in use in Liaoning province, northeast China.

This picture, which was handed to The Sunday Times outside China, was taken in Liaoning by an official witness in violation of strict rules against photographs of the death vans in operation.

"After judgment is pronounced the criminal will be taken somewhere near the court, normally within 10 minutes drive," said the policeman. "He will then be transferred to the lethal injection van. Its all over very quickly."

A rare newspaper account of an execution on January 19 in Liaoyang, the provincial capital, says the convicted man, Li Jiao, was dead within 14 minutes of sentence being pronounced.

The vans, which cost 33,000 each, are fitted with closed circuit television, which permitted Lis death to be watched by local members of the National Peoples Congress gathered at the citys funeral parlour.

In the past, capital punishment was carried out by a single shot to the back of the head at execution fields outside Chinese cities and families of the dead were sent a bill for the bullet. Now the vans are circulating in several provinces, their clean and discreet method of killing hailed by officials as progress. Death by injection costs the state about 63 but is free to the victims relatives.

The death penalty is inflicted for crimes ranging from murder to smuggling and official corruption. China refuses to disclose the number of capital sentences carried out each year but Amnesty International quoted a senior legislator as saying up to 10,000 people a year die at the hands of the state executioners.

However, the presence of the legislators monitoring Lis execution signalled the fact that, for the first time since 1949, a serious debate about capital punishment is under way.

Last autumn the Supreme Peoples Court announced that it would in future review all death sentences. The government has also indicated it will reduce the number of crimes that carry a mandatory death sentence.

2 months ago there was unprecedented discussion of the issue at an academic conference in Xiangtan, central China. The participants heard "powerful arguments over the possibility of abolishing the death penalty," according to accounts in the official media.

Professor Qiu Xinglong, dean of the law faculty at Xiangtan University, who is seen as a leading advocate for abolition, told the conference he had to speak up after visiting a youth of 18 condemned to death.

"At 7 on the last morning, he was eating with me. An hour later he was on the execution field," the professor said. "From that moment on I have been haunted by this question: why must we kill another human being?"

The remarks were published by the state media along with a highly defensive response by the deputy minister of justice, Zhang Jun, who promised reform. "My suggestion is to make sure they stay in prison for at least 25 years and then release them," Zhang said. "A criminal who is released at 55 normally will not commit a new crime."

The media also quoted opponents of liberalisation such as Xia Qingwen, an online commentator with Xinhuanet, the official news agency.

"The notion of 'returning like for like' is rooted in China," Xia said. "The majority of the public could not accept that some murderers could go free after 10 years' imprisonment."

Despite the open discussion and the move towards "humane" killing, Amnesty International monitors reported a surge in executions 6 weeks ago as China marked the lunar new year, with almost 200 put to death.

(source: The Sunday Times)
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