China Executed 2,400 Prisoners Last Year Says Human Rights Group

China death penalty
Criminals are sentenced to death during an open trial in Zhuzhou, central China's Hunan province December 26, 2006. China Daily/Reuters

China executed 2,400 prisoners last year, according to a report released on Monday by a leading US-based human rights group.

The Dui Hua foundation, a San Francisco-based organisation which works to uphold human rights in China and America, estimated that approximately 2,400 people were executed in China in 2013, a 20% drop since 2012.

The report added that the 2014 figure will be unlikely to change.

Although the figure is a state secret, China is believed to execute far more people than any other country. Chinese prisoners are typically executed using lethal injection, and in some cases, by firing squads.

According to Amnesty International’s annual report on the death penalty, “excluding China, at least 778 people were executed worldwide” throughout 2013. Dui Hua’s estimate would place the number of executions in China at three times as many as the rest of the world put together.

The Amnesty report also noted that their monitoring indicated death sentences “in the thousands”. However the organisation was unwilling to attempt more specific estimates due to the refusal of Chinese authorities to make statistics public.

Chiara Sangiorgio, Amnesty International’s death penalty expert, told Newsweek that despite “some limited positive steps”, secrecy has made it difficult to evaluate the general situation in China.

"The lack of transparency around the use of the death penalty makes it impossible to assess the true reality of capital punishment in the country, or indeed if there has been any ‘progress’ towards abolition,” she said.

She added that capital punishment can still be granted for non-lethal crimes such as drug trafficking and embezzlement, which in the UK carries an average sentence of five years in jail.

The Dui Hua foundation said that they had obtained their statistics by analysing “data points” published in the Chinese magazine Southern Weekly that conform to information leaked to Dui Hua by a Chinese official earlier this year.

China has moderated its use of the death penalty in recent years, and is thought to have executed fewer people following a 2007 decision to give the Supreme People's Court the authority to review all death sentences.

In a landmark case in June this year, Li Yan, a Chinese woman who killed her abusive husband after suffering months of domestic violence had her death sentence overturned by the Supreme Court.

In 2011, China also banned the use of capital punishment for offenders over the age of 75 and removed 13 offences from the list of 68 crimes punishable by death.

However since the offences were all economic-related crimes which, in practice, rarely incurred the death penalty, the move was viewed as a token gesture in some quarters. Amnesty International deemed the law change “legal housekeeping”.

Iran and Iraq follow China as the countries where the death penalty is most widely practiced, at second and third respectively. According to Amnesty statistics at least 369 executions were carried out in Iran, and 169 in Iraq throughout 2013. Saudi Arabia (79) and the USA (39) take fourth and fifth place with Somalia (34) in sixth place.