BEIJING, Aug. 23 (Xinhua) -- The top legislature of China on Monday began the first reading of an amendment to the Criminal Law, which proposes reducing the number of crimes subject to the death penalty and creating tougher punishment for those involved in organized crime.
The amendment, the eighth to the country's 1997 version of the Criminal Law, is meant to further implement the policy of tempering justice with mercy, according to a statement by the Chairmen's Council of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee.
It is also meant to better prevent, reduce and punish crimes, as well as educate and reform criminals, the statement said.
FEWER CRIMES SUBJECT TO DEATH PENALTY
China currently stipulates that 68 crimes are punishable by the death penalty. However, the draft amendment eliminates capital punishment for 13 economic-related non-violent offences, a drop of 19.1 percent.
The 13 crimes to no longer be punishable by possible death include smuggling from the country prohibited cultural relics, gold, silver, and other precious metals and rare animals and their products; falsely issuing exclusive value-added tax invoices to defraud export tax refunds or offset taxes; and teaching methods for committing crimes, among others.
If the amendment becomes law, it would be the first time the number of crimes subject to the death penalty has been reduced since the People's Republic of China enacted its criminal law in 1979.
It will also be a major move by China to limit the use of the death penalty since the Supreme People's Court, in 2007, resumed the review and approval of all death penalty decisions.
The draft amendment also allows for leniency to offenders below 18 years or above 75, by stating that the death penalty is not to be applied to people above 75 at the time a crime is committed.
Previously, only those under age 18 at the time a crime was committed, and women pregnant at the time of the hearing, were exempt from capital punishment.
According to the draft amendment, a person who reached the age of 75 and commits a crime could be given a mitigated punishment.
TOUGHER PUNISHMENT FOR ORGANIZED CRIME0 As organized crime has become a threat to the public in some parts of China, the amendment offers a definition of an "organization in the nature of a criminal syndicate" and lists tougher punishments for crimes by such organizations.
It also stipulates confiscation of assets for ring leaders and fines for members of such organizations. Government employees who provide protective shields for organized crimes may face at least five years in prison, compared with up to 10 years in the 1997 version.
Organized crimes has been rampant in some areas in China. More than 1,400 gangs had been broken up and 3,400 guns confiscated amid a government crackdown on mafia-style organizations since February 2006. The crackdown is still underway.
BETTER PROTECTION OF PEOPLE'S LIVELIHOOD
Acts that endanger the public and draw complaints, including drunk driving, street racing, defaulting on payment to employees and human organ trading, have been written into the draft amendment as crimes.
The acts had only been subject to administrative or civil penalties.
Drunk drivers and street racers may face imprisonment and fines if the amendment is passed.
In a bid to better protect disadvantaged groups, those convicted of forcing others to work may face penalties of up to seven years in prison, instead of only three years, and those who provide assistance to people organizing others for prostitution may face up to 10 years in prison.
Several forced labor scandals have come to light in China in recent years.
In May 2009, police in eastern Anhui Province arrested 10 suspects for allegedly beating and forcing 32 mentally handicapped people to work in brick kilns in slave-like conditions.
Another forced-labor scandal made headlines in 2007. Then, a brick-kiln boss in northern China's Shanxi Province was found to have forced 1,340 people into labor, 367 of whom were mentally handicapped.
"This is an effective way to prevent such acts and crack down on them by listing them as crimes," said an official with the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee.