London, 9 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International said today China executed almost 1,900 people last year, more than the rest of the world put together. Iran recorded the second highest number of executions in 1997 with 143 (143).
The annual death penalty toll released by the human rights organization today says China sentenced to death at least 3,152 people and executed more than 1,876 last year. It says however it believes the real figures are probably much higher.
The figures represent a drop from 1996 at the peak of the "Strike Hard" anti-crime campaign, but are comparable to figures for the previous three years. The report says: "China still executes more people than the rest of the world put together, and sentences on average 60 people to death each week."
AI's figures come during UN High Commission for Human Rights Mary Robinson's visit to China. Before leaving for Beijing, she said she would raise the use of the death penalty in China.
AI, which campaigns for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide, says that defendants in Chinese courts are still denied standards of justice set out in international conventions. It says abuses leading to unfair trials include confessions extracted through torture, failure to give defendants early access to legal advice, and the "indecent" haste with which proceedings are staged.
It expresses concern at what it calls a change in reporting which seems to obscure the real levels of use of the death penalty.
AI's figures are based mainly on published reports which "constitute just a fraction of executions the Chinese authorities choose to reveal to the public. This minimum picture is also easily manipulated by the moves to a more ambiguous reporting style encountered in press reports monitored by AI this year."
In 1997, newspapers often reported much earlier in the process, during investigations and before trials in a style which appeared to assume guilt in advance of any judicial process.
The report says media coverage was acknowledged to have influenced the execution verdict in at least one case -- a drink-driving policeman who killed a child in a hit and run accident.
AI says: "This undermines welcome revisions to the Criminal Procedure Law introduced in 1997 which stipulate that 'no one shall be determined guilty without a verdict according to law by a People's Court," AI said.
The AI report says at least 662 people were sentenced to death for drug trafficking or possession in 1997, of whom 437 were confirmed to have been executed after public rallies held on or around June 26, International Anti-Drugs Day.
AI cites a number of case examples of citizens executed for alleged prostitution, fraud and forgery offenses. Two peasants were executed for the theft of the heads of five Tang dynasty statues. The pair were reportedly executed "on the spot" after a sentencing rally held in front of the statues.