Each year China executes hundreds of people, more than any other single country.

Among the victims are people like Nie Shubin, a young farmer, who was put to death for a murder to which someone else later confessed, and Xu Shuangfu, the executed unofficial leader of a Protestant group, who confessed after he was beaten with chains, given electric shocks and had hot pepper, gasoline and ginger forced up his nose.

Nobody sentenced to death in China gets a fair trial in line with international standards. The Chinese system doesn't presume innocence. It uses evidence extracted under torture. It restricts defendants' access to lawyers. And it’s subject to political interference.

Figures a state secret

Chinese citizens, along with the entire world, don't know how many people are executed in China each year – the Government says the statistics are a state secret.

The Government claims 1,010 people were executed in 2006, but we have credible reports putting the actual figure closer to 8,000. During that same year, the rest of the world combined executed about 1,591 people.

China hasn't announced a figure for last year, but based on media reports we estimate at least 470 people were executed - the true figure is undoubtedly much higher. The lack of transparency means it's impossible to tell if this actually shows a drop in the use of the death penalty last year or is because of other factors, such as a change in reporting practices.

In the four years to 2001 China executed 60,000 people, according to an estimate based on internal Communist Party documents.

Lengthy list

There are about 68 crimes punishable by death in China, including some drug offences, and many non-violent and white-collar crimes such as tax fraud, bribery, embezzlement, arson and prostitution.

During periodic crime crackdowns the death penalty is imposed for offences that at other times would attract a lesser punishment. It's also used more often at certain times of the year, like in the run up to major national events and around Chinese New Year.

Guilt already decided

Our research shows defendants often appear for trial in a court which has already decided a verdict and possibly even a sentence – before the case has even begun.

This could explain the short duration of trials – it is common for people to be sentenced to death following a trial lasting no more than an hour.

Injection or bullet

Condemned prisoners are sometimes paraded in an open truck through busy streets as they are taken to an execution ground. They wear a placard, with their name crossed out in red, around their neck.

Prisoners are often executed just minutes or hours after their final appeal fails.

Usually in China execution is carried out by a shot to the back of the head, although increasingly lethal injection is used. According to most accounts, those who are to be shot are forced to kneel on the ground with their hands tied behind their back.

We continue to get reports of relatives being denied access to condemned prisoners or of executions being carried out without relatives even being informed of the failure of final appeals.

Cruel and inhuman

China must abolish the death penalty. As a first step it must make public the actual number of people it executes and it must radically cut the number of capital crimes.

Execution and the conditions on death row are cruel, inhuman and degrading.

The death penalty has never been proven to deter crime more effectively than other punishments, and it violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Limited reform

Last January reforms were introduced which meant all death sentences in China would be reviewed by the Supreme People's Court. But a lack of transparency means it's difficult to tell if the review is actually reducing the number of death sentences.

Until authorities reveal full death penalty statistics for the periods before and after the review was introduced, it's impossible to assess what effect the reforms have had.

Authorities must also introduce greater transparency, making sure families and lawyers have access to those sentenced, and that they are also given information about their case.

Global opposition

Worldwide countries are shifting away from the death penalty and a total of 135 countries have now abolished it in law or practice.

Last November the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a global moratorium on the death penalty. The landmark decision had cross-regional support and was co-sponsored by 87 states from around the world - China didn't take part.

Find out more

For more information see our report Executed "according to law"?

Also check out these websites World Coalition Against the Death Penalty and Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network - ADPAN.