China executes more people every year than the rest of the world combined. By some estimates, the number of executions is more than 10,000 a year. The government's relentless death penalty machine has long been its harshest tool for maintaining political control and curbing crime and corruption. But it has now become a glaring uncertainty about China's commitment to the rule of law. There is widespread suspicion, even within the government, that too many innocent people are sentenced to death. This year, a raft of cases came to light in which wrongful convictions had led to death sentences, or, in one well-publicized case, the execution of an innocent man.
Reforming capital punishment has become a priority within the Communist Party-controlled legal system, partly because of international pressure to reduce abuses. Within the party-run legislative system, there is a broader debate about how to improve criminal law. But achieving those reforms is hardly certain. Hard-liners are loath to restrict the power of the police and the courts to take a tough line. Death penalty reforms announced by the People's Supreme Court - and broadly trumpeted in the state news media - are mostly just a return to the status quo of 1980.
A report in the UK "The Independent" of 21st March 2006 tells of a Japanese business man, Kenichiro Hokamura, who underwent a kidney transplant in a Shanghai hospital. He had tracked down the offer of a kindey on the Internet. The operation cost 50,000 euros. He was told by his interpreter that the "donor" of the kidney was a young person who had been executed. It appears that Japanese are the main purchasers of such organs. Both private and state hospitals host the operations.