Tomb Robbers Rejoice! The Death Penalty No Longer Applies in China

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Convicted in China of tax fraud, grave-robbing or fossil-smuggling? Good news. In a country that reportedly executes more people than the rest of the world combined, these crimes will no longer merit the death penalty. As of May 1, China will decrease the number of crimes punishable by execution to a mere 55, down from 68. Those offenses trimmed from the lethal list are either financial or so-called “non-violent” crimes. Most people over the age of 75 at the time of trial will also be exempt from the death penalty. The changes are “meant to further implement the principle of tempering justice with mercy,” according to Xinhua, the state news agency. No one knows how many people are executed each year in China, because the Chinese government does not disclose any figures. However, human-rights groups like Amnesty International believe the numbers are well into the thousands. Iran, considered the second-biggest imposer of capital punishment in the world after China, reported putting to death just under 400 people in 2009.

In fact, China-watchers say that few people were actually killed for those crimes now being trimmed from the execution list, so the amendment may not significantly change the death-penalty toll. In late February, Chinese state media announced that four ethnic Uighur men from the northwestern region of Xinjiang had been handed the death penalty for their part in racial unrest between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese. Hundreds of foreigners are believed to be on Chinese death row, including 78 Filipinos for drug smuggling.