The Chinese legal system

Despite the Chinese Constitution guaranteeing their legal rights, the people of China, especially the poor, ethnic minorities, migrant workers or political dissidents, have found it difficult to obtain justice in the courts.

Although things are improving, political interference by the Chinese authorities often means it is difficult to get a fair trial in China. Those accused may be:

  • denied a lawyer or not given the chance to speak in their own defence
  • convicted on weak evidence which they are not allowed to challenge
  • denied the chance of an appeal

If convicted, even of minor crimes, individuals often receive very long prison terms compared to Western sentencing.

Work camps

Prisoners making lamps in a Youth Detention Centre, Chengdu, China, 1985
Prisoners making lamps in a Youth Detention Centre, Chengdu, China, 1985

Until as recently as 2014, many of those found guilty of crimes in China found themselves in prison work camps where conditions were extremely harsh. Prisoners have been:

  • forced to work, often in dangerous or unhealthy jobs
  • beaten or tortured
  • denied sleep, adequate food or clothing and access to friends and family
  • subjected to 're-education through labour'

Today, thousands of Chinese people have been released from work camps with the Chinese authorities appearing to make good on their promise to close them.

The death penalty

China executes more people than the rest of the world put together. In 2014, the human rights organisation Amnesty International estimated at least 3,000 people were executed by the Chinese authorities.

Fifty five crimes currently carry a possible death sentence although most people who are executed are convicted of murder or large scale drug crimes.

The Chinese authorities do not release figures so it is difficult to get an exact figure on the number of annual executions. China does not execute those under eighteen, although foreigners have been executed.

Most executions take place by firing squad, with lethal injection having been used more recently. Mobile executions vans are used to speed up the execution process.