ON THURSDAY morning last week, a court in the city of Changsha held a mass sentencing in the gymnasium of Hunan University, with 15 people condemned to death for a range of serious crimes, including a man who bombed a tax office in the city.
The criminals were all taken from the university to the execution grounds and executed immediately after sentencing, an extraordinary series of pictures on the Chinese Netease service shows.
While the reports do not specify how they died, with such a large number of condemned, it is most likely they were shot.
The accused were lined up in the packed gymnasium, many with prison-regulation shaved heads; one man was wearing pyjamas.
One of the men with a shaved head was Liu Zhuiheng (52), who was convicted and sentenced to death for blowing up a tax office in July 2010 in Changsha – once the home of Chairman Mao Zedong in Hunan province.
Liu felt he was mistreated by the tax office and detonated explosives, which killed four people and wounded 17 others.
The others sentenced to die were convicted of a number of offences including murder, robbery and homicide-robbery. Currently, 55 offences in China’s criminal law are punishable by death.
In the background in the gym is a banner saying: “Safeguarding the people’s lives and property in accordance with the law”.
The rights group Dui Hua has estimated that the number of Chinese executions every year has dropped to about 4,000, from 8,000 in 2006, and that while China still executes more people than any other country, there is growing support for abolishing the death penalty.
The drop in the number of executions has taken place since the Supreme People’s Court regained the power to conduct final review over death sentences on January 2007.
“China has made dramatic progress in reducing the number of executions, but the number is still far too high and declining far too slowly,” John Kamm, executive director of Dui Hua, said in a recent statement.
“At the present rate of decline it will take many years for the government to reach its goal of abolishing the death penalty. When officials and the public know the full extent of the death penalty in China, abolition will be achieved more quickly,” Mr Kamm said.
Comments online, summarised by the ChinaSmack website, reflected widespread anger in China about corruption, particularly among government officials.
“Not a single corrupt official amongst the condemned, even though there are corrupt officials everywhere and just 200,000 yuan [€24,400] qualifies for the death penalty,” wrote one.
One photograph shows a bound man being led off to the execution grounds with a cigarette in his mouth. A web commentator has written: “One final cigarette. There are no ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ here, it’s just that you guys infringed upon their interests and you are also the weak.”