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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

China Puts Limits on Executions

BEIJING -- China's legislature on Tuesday approved a change in the death penalty law to allow only the country's highest court to approve death sentences, state media said.

The move comes amid complaints of miscarriages of justice and criticism by human rights groups who say China extensively and arbitrarily uses capital punishment.

The change, which will take effect Jan. 1, "is believed to be the most important reform of capital punishment in China in more than two decades," the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Last year, the Supreme People's Court announced it would start reviewing death sentences, ending a 23-year-old practice of allowing a final review by provincial courts. In June, state media said the court had begun hiring dozens of judges for the task but no timetable was announced for the start of the process.

Tuesday's announcement appears to codify the change into China's murky legal system.

"It's great news. This is a big step forward for China's legal system and human rights," said Li Heping, a prominent Chinese activist lawyer.

"I think the purpose of allowing the Supreme Court to make the final decision is so that China can control the total number of death penalties and create an atmosphere of humanitarianism," Li said. "That is great progress."

China is believed to account for most of the world's court-ordered executions, putting to death hundreds of people per year for crimes ranging from murder to nonviolent offenses such as tax evasion.