Posted by: Sam Olsen | August 25, 2011

Pandacide and other crimes

Want to be executed? Try China. Amnesty reports that 1718 people were put to death in China in 2009, don from an estimated 10,000 in 2005. These high numbers come about partly because of the wide range of crimes that can lead to capital punishment, some of which are unique to China. Before the recent revision of the criminal code, tax fraud and other economic crimes would see you taken to the execution van – yes, literally a van where they execute you: mobile justice – for a lethal injection. (Firing squads, the other method, is reserved for ‘normal’ crimes like murder). China has 55 crimes punishable by death, although this no longer includes killing pandas – no doubt much to the chagrin of the WWF.

And if you don’t get executed then there are plenty of other options. There are reports of criminals being put to work in the precious metal mines, and local prisons are slightly different to even Strangeways in Manchester. There is still the possibility of “re-education through labor” too, although there are moves to turn this into “education and correction for illegal acts” (not sure how this could be better, but there you go).

The recent criminal code change has brought about two important changes to the legal system, as discussed on China TV this morning. (Our abrupt host started the conversation by looking at an American commentator and asking in all seriousness “Tell me, what is it like to be followed and watched by the security services and have your phone tapped?” Cue nervous looking guest.)

The first change is that the police are no longer officially allowed to torture you. The second is that you cannot be forced to testify against yourself anymore. So that’s alright then.

But there are a few impediments left to a fair trial in China. It is reported anecdotally that around 95% of all those going to trial are found guilty. And there are only around 120,000 lawyers in the whole country, compared to 150,000 in the UK and 1.2 million in the US.

That said, these changes are all part of the modernisation of the Chinese legal code which is being pressed for more and more as the country develops. One significant change is that if you are arrested, you are now called a ‘suspect’ rather than a ‘criminal’.

All in all though, if you’re going to break the law, it’s probably best not to do it in China. Especially if you don’t like vans or gold mining.



  1. Marot objects to your characterization of the number of attorneys in the US and we plan to sue.

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