Watchdog condemns China move to lethal injections
BEIJING, Jan 4 (Reuters) - Amnesty International on Friday condemned China's decision to expand lethal injections to replace execution by gunshot in the year of the Beijing Olympics, saying the real focus should be on abolishing the death penalty.
China executes more convicts than the rest of the world combined -- about 5,000 to 12,000 people a year, according to estimates of the figure, which the government does not publicly release.
On Thursday, Jiang Xingchang, vice-president of the Supreme People's Court, was quoted as saying lethal injections were considered more humane and would eventually replace the old method of a shot to the back of the head.
"The extension of the lethal injection programme flies in the face of the clear international trend away from using the death penalty and ignores the problems inherent in this punishment," said human rights watchdog Amnesty's Asia-Pacific director, Catherine Baber.
"Arbitrary application, miscarriages of justice, including executing the innocent, and the cruel and inhumane nature of the death penalty cannot be solved by changing the method of execution," she said in a statement.
China has been reforming its death penalty system after several high-profile wrongful convictions drew widespread media attention and public anger.
Most notably, the Supreme Court last year took back its power of final approval on death penalties, relinquished to lower courts in a crime-fighting campaign in the 1980s.
Some experts say the change is lowering the numbers of executions, but Amnesty said it was impossible to assess or verify any change in the figures because of a lack of transparency.
The group called on China to take steps towards abolishing capital punishment altogether, saying it was out of step with the ideals of the Olympics, which Beijing is to host in August.
"This move goes against the spirit of the Olympic Charter for the Beijing Olympics, which places the preservation of human dignity at the heart of the Olympic movement," Baber said.
China's chief justice, Xiao Yang, has said it is not time to consider abolishing the death penalty, and any such moves would meet stiff opposition from the country's powerful police and public security organs. (Reporting by Lindsay Beck; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jerry Norton)