China orders suspension of death sentences

Convict sentencing, Wenzhou, April 2004
Image caption Earlier this year China reduced the number of crimes that carry the death penalty by 13 to 55

China has apparently introduced new standards to reduce the number of criminals it executes.

The Supreme People's Court - the highest in China - has told lower courts to suspend death sentences for two years.

But this should only happen in cases where there is no need for "immediate execution", the court said.

China has introduced a number of measures over recent years to cut down the number of executions.

This latest development appeared in the annual report of the supreme court.

"Suspend the death sentence for two years for all cases that don't require immediate execution," read the report.

The court does not say why some cases might need to be carried out immediately, although in the past the government has instructed judges to be more severe in cases that involved crimes it was targeting.

Those benefiting from the changes will probably never be executed.

Criminals given a suspended death penalty usually have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

China does not reveal the number of executions it carries out each year, but it is thought to kill more people than any other country.

Four years ago the Supreme People's Court took back the right to review every death sentence handed out by lower courts.

The result has been fewer executions.

Earlier this year China reduced the number of crimes that carry the death penalty by 13 to 55.

"Strictly control and unify standards relating to the death penalty, and ensure that it only applies to a very small minority of criminals committing extremely serious crimes," read one section of the supreme court's report.

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