China urged to halt executions ahead of Olympics

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BEIJING, Oct 9 (Reuters) A human rights group called on China today to halt its use of the death penalty as a gesture of goodwill ahead of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

China, which is estimated to execute more people than the rest of the world combined and where there is no independent judiciary, has seen its record on human rights come increasingly under the spotlight as the Olympics approach.

''Because of structural deficiencies in the conduct of trials in China, no one executed in China today receives a fair trial in line with international standards,'' Brad Adams, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

China has been slowly reforming the death penalty system after several high-profile wrongful convictions aroused public anger.

In the most significant move, the Supreme Court this year took back its power of final approval on death penalties, which had been relinquished to lower courts in an earlier crime-fighting drive.

Since then, state media has reported a fall in numbers of those sentenced to death, though the exact number is regarded as a state secret by China's Communist authorities.

Human Rights Watch said China should use the moratorium period to reduce the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty, make public the number of people executed and change trial procedures to ensure international standards of fairness.

''The reported decrease in the number of executions is welcome, but that is no substitute for full transparency, fair trials, adequate defence counsel and judicial independence,'' said Adams.

The New York-based group said it was also concerned about announcements that authorities would carry out anti-crime campaigns in the run-up to the Olympics in August, warning that could mean a possible rise in executions.

Chinese officials are already in the midst of a tightening wave, aimed at stifling protest ahead of a key Communist Party meeting to open next week.

China's leaders see public protest and petitioners pressing their causes as a destabilising force and also a source of embarrassment to a government that has promised to defuse strife over corruption and abuses of power.


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