Death Sentence in China

The concept of death sentence is as ancient in China as the kingship. Much before the constitutional concept of separation of powers among the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary came into existence, it was the monarch who exercised the authority of the three wings just mentioned plus the residual powers. His word was Law. He could order an individual, never mind if he or she was his subject or not, a citizen or an alien,to be hanged till death. The King had the unlimited powers on the life, limb, goods and chattel of anyone he could seize physically point of. The death sentence that the King awarded summarily was carried out forthwith by any means convenient at that time.


Qin Shih Huang Di, the first Emperor of China was as fond of awarding the capital punishment to his subjects as any warlord before or kings of the Warring States were. The judicial system of modern China, the People’s Republic of China in the matter of award of Death Sentence is no different from what it was in the pre-recorded history period. It is ingrained in the Chinese blood that a criminal found guilty of a heinous crime or High Treason must pay for it with his life. The Islamic concept of the Blood Money is just not there, not even among the Muslims of China. The criminal Law is applied to one and all irrespective of the religion one follows FAITH is indeed a matter of personal conviction and the law of the land is never affected by personal faith.

The Chinese Kings could not have built the Great Wall if they were not strict bordering harshness in dealing with their own people. The State and the government are as strict in ensuring obedience of government orders as they were in the ancient period.  The welfare of the people is subservient to the expediency of the State in the modern period or the kingdom of the ancient period.

In the soft states the dictum “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” is not observed and they say that observance of this dictum would make most of the citizens bind in one eye and toothless too. In India that is Bharat even a condemned terrorist sentenced to death by the Supreme Court is not hanged till death for ulterior motives. The Congress party led government mistakenly believes that hanging to death a terrorist sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of India would mean losing Muslim votes. The enlightened men and women of the Muslim community feel that this logic brands them as traitors and they protest. China has no such religion based road blocks. It augurs well for that State.

Executions in China are going on unabated. The Chinese leaders who govern that big country with the world’s largest population are of the opinion that unless the Law, including provision of the capital punishment, is enforced strictly, the nation might disintegrate. They are not prepared to accept dismemberment of their country,come what may.


Amnesty International has been keeping track of award of death sentence and ultimate executions in China. They found to their horror that in the year 2009therewere more executions in China than in the rest of the world combined. Even the Internal Security Minister found guilty of defrauding the government and making a large amount of money stashed in own account in a foreign bank, was sentenced to death. However, in view of his past record of good public service, the sentence of death has been kept under suspension.

The Railway Minister was found guilty of dereliction of duty as a number of train collisions had taken pace and valuable lives were lost. The Minister had also accepted a large amount of money as bribe from some foreign firms for awarding them contracts. However, he was   just relieved of his post as a Minister and sidelined. No death sentence was awarded. People want to know WHY was the guity minister not given a death  sentence? No authentic reply is forthcoming.

The Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang province have been sentenced to death for rioting and casing death or grievous injury to the Han Chinese settled there. In the year 2010 there were four executions of this nature. In earlier years too Uighur Muslims were sentenced to death and executed Although some foreign observers take it as an act of ethnic discrimination but they need to look into the cases deeper. The Uighur Muslims have a  separatist tendency and are influenced by the Pan-Islamic movement. Some of them were trained in Pakistan and had an inclination to violently disturb peace in the province. The government of China had lodged a protest with the government of Pakistan and the latter had promised.

There are numerous examples of the officials of the Chinese Communist Party being found guilty of high level corruption to the tune of millions of dollars and they were sentenced to death and executed. Among them were Mayors of big cities like Shanghai. Some officials made millions of dollars while supervising construction work of the Olympic Games stadia and  infra structure. They too were sentenced to death and executed.

One notable exception to the general rule of bringing the corrupt to book and even executing them is that of HU Junior, a son of China’s President Hu Jintao. He had bribed some officials in the African countries while bagging contracts of major building activities.  The judicial authorities of those countries had punished their own citizens and sent an official complaint to Beijing to deal with HU Jr as per law. The case, however, has never seen the face of a presiding judge so  far. It is gathering dust in the corridors of power. Gathering straws in the air, critics say that it was a fit case for award of death sentence and execution. Nothing of that sort happened. After all, a son of President of China is above law.

An independent legal observer may wish to give credit to the legal reforms introduced in China recently. One of the reforms that has become law now says that the evidence obtained by the police or any other investigating agency through TORTURE will not be admissible in a court of law. Of course, the onus to prove an act of torture will lie on the person who alleges that he or she was tortured.

One more reform that is urgently required is expeditious disposal of legal cases, especially criminal cases. The civil cases may take time but criminal cases where the accused is in jail and not on bail, must be disposed off as early as possible by the trial court. In case an accused is awarded the sentence of Death, an appeal is bound to be preferred by the accused. Unless the accused is a terrorist, a rapist or a rapist cum killer, he may be granted bail during pendency of the appeal. Indeed crux of the matter is expeditious final  disposal of the criminal case even by the highest court of appeal. Thus the courts of law in China empowered to award a sentence of Death will shake off the age-old charge that Justice Delayed is Justice Denied.

By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM



Chitranjan Sawant 
on 03 January 2012
Published in Criminal Law
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