by Gary Bunter
China's death penalty has gone mobile. Death vans are now replacing firing squads as the preferred method of execution.
In the past, condemned prisoners were executed publicly in prisons or court buildings. Kang Zhongwen, designer of the Jinguan Automobile death van, says that his vehicles "deters others from committing crime and has more impact" because executions are carried out closer to the communities where the crimes are committed.
Kang says that the switch from firing squads to lethal injection is proof that China "promotes human rights now."
Amnesty International researcher Mark Allison suggests another reason for the switch.
"We have gathered strong evidence suggesting the involvement of (Chinese) police, courts and hospitals in the organ trade."
Despite bans on organ trading and stringent standards for transplants suspicion still surrounds China's complicity in trafficking illegal organs.
"Given the high commercial value of organs, it is doubtful the new regulations will have an effect," says Allison.
Although mobile executions are video and audio taped and telecast live to law enforcement officials, outsiders are denied any access to the deceased. Even relatives are not allowed to view the corpses before they are cremated, adding to the suspicion about what happens to the body after executions.
Allison points out that lethal injections do not physically harm the body and are carried out by doctors who can extract organs "in a speedier and more effective way than if a prisoner is shot." However, this directly contradicts testimony from the United States when condemned prisoners have sought to donate their organs after their executions and doctors have opined that the lethal chemicals that cause death render all organs unsuitable for transplant lest they cause death or illness in the transplantee.
Death vans are designed to look like police vehicles on the outside. Inside they are equipped with an assortment of high-tech gadgetry.
"I'm most proud of the bed," Kang says of the electric-powered stretcher that glides out at an incline to embrace its victim. "It's very humane, like an ambulance," he says. "It's too brutal to haul a person aboard. This makes it convenient for the criminal and the guards."
Death by firing squad is still common practice in. China. It is estimated that 60% are carried out the old fashioned way.
"Some prisons can't afford the cost of sending a person to Beijing -- perhaps $250 -- plus $125 more," for the tripartite death cocktail, says attorney and former judge Olu Xingsheng.
Consequently, lethal injection is for now an option reserved for the upper class. China is one of the few countries in the world that actually executes the wealthy, in the rest of the world the death penalty remains the exclusive province of the poor.
Death penalty researcher Liu Rennen observes that "it is a real phenomenon that gangsters and corrupt officials are killed by injection more than gunshot, so their bodies are intact and their death less painful."
In traditional executions a kneeling prisoner is shot in the back of the head. The prisoner is asked to open his mouth to minimize damage to the face.
Amnesty International reports on its website that a minimum of 1,770 executions took place in China in 2005. They estimate that 8,000 may be a more accurate figure.
Source: USA Today
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