China’s Penal System

At approximately 02:30 (UK time) on Tuesday 29 December 2009 China executed a British Citizen convicted of smuggling 4kg of Heroin into China.  It is a widely known fact that China executes for drugs offences and as little as 50g of Heroin in your possession is enough to see you executed.  There has been a lot of media attention surrounding this case and the British Government have made an astonishing number of approaches to China and its officials here in the UK over this case.

There are a number of main issues surrounding this case, but all are linked by one common theme:  Mr Shaikh’s alleged Mental Illness.  This post is likely to turn into (in fact it is intended to turn into) a complete condemnation of China over its penal system and record on Human Rights.

Mr Shaikh reportedly suffered from Bipolar Disorder and delusional psychosis.   The charity Reprieve have come out and said that a Consultant psychologist’s report had made such a diagnosis.  Whether this report had been seen by a Court in China or had been passed to authorities in China we will probably never know given how secretive the Chinese are over their penal system – especially where the death penalty is involved.  Even had this report not been seen there was certainly enough evidence provided by Mr Sheikh’s family and the British Government for Chinese authorities to have conducted their own psychiatric examination of Mr Sheikh – indeed where no formal diagnosis has been made, but questions surrounding a person’s mental state in a criminal trial are raised this would be standard in pretty much every civilised country in the world.

It is also widely reported that the Chinese Government has great involvement in its judicial system with reports suggesting that decisions are frequently reached over a persons guilt before the trial has even began.  People have been executed in China following trials lasting half a day or less.

China is a signatory to many human rights treaties and blatantly ignores the obligations it has placed upon itself by signing these treaties.

China executes more people than the rest of the world combined and has the death penalty attached to at least 68 crimes including economic and other non-violent related crimes.

The exact number of people executed in China is not known due to its secrecy surrounding executions, in contravention of both its own domestic law and the obligations it has as part of being a member of the UN.  China is a committee member of the United Nation’s Economic and Social Committee and is a signatory to treaties which place an obligation upon China to publish full and frank information on the use of the Death Penalty and executions as well as banning the execution of those who are suffering from mental retardation or extremely limited mental competence, whether at the stage of sentence or execution.  China’s own criminal law require sit to publicly publish all executions (Article 212(5) of the 1996 Criminal Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China) – this is something we know it does not.

The People’s Republic of China, whether we like it or not, is part of the International Community.  It is too big and economically advanced for us to ignore this, but the rest of the International Community, as a whole, must place pressure on China to start living up to its obligations under International Law to which it is a signatory.

China is known to use torture as part of its penal system and uses evidence extracted under torture at court and frequently people are found guilty and executed on evidence extracted under torture.  Such evidence is internationally regarded as unsafe and problematic for a number of reasons.

China is a central part of an international community and law making body and does not itself abide by the rules laid out within that community.  No country within that system is perfect and all breach parts of the Law, what makes China so different is its blatant disregard for treaties which it has voluntarily signed up to and accepted the obligations that signing that treaty place upon it.

While China is moving towards the use of the Lethal Injection as its method of execution (a method widely seen as a humane form of execution, but causes many problems in the USA) the most commonly used method of execution is death by a single gunshot to the back of the head from close range – families of condemned prisoners are often forced to pay for the bullet used to execute their loved ones themselves.

Lawyers in China have reported to the International Media that it is impossible to defend s person on a Capital charge in China and that almost 100% of those tried are convicted.  Having a near 100% conviction rate would normally be something to be pleased about, but looking at it in China it is deeply worrisome.  The fact that it is impossible to determine that each person convicted has been tried fairly means that we can have little or no confidence in China’s justice system.

Those accused of crimes in China often get no immediate access to legal representation, which places them at a significant disadvantage.

There is evidence of China’s courts convicting and upholding death sentences of evidence which has clearly and knowingly been fabricated and there are people whose convictions and sentences been overturned a number of times sitting on Death Row or have been executed after being convicted again and again and again on the same fabricated evidence.

Following revelations a few years ago on China’s booming organ transplantation services one does wonder how many executions are driven purely by the need for organs.   Personally I’d probably rather die than have an organ transplanted into me from a person executed in a system like China’s.

How can anyone have confidence in a justice system which is so obviously devoid of internationally accepted minimum standards on justice?  The answer is that one cannot.  Any country that has such a system and tries as hard as it can to

This blog entry has become rather lengthy and I don’t want to go on much longer.  All I really want to say is that I am disgusted (but not surprised) by the way China has handled this case.