Convicts on death row soon will be able to meet not only with their close family members but also with other relatives or friends, according to a new guideline released by the top court on Friday to better protect the rights and interests of those to be executed.
China's Criminal Procedure Law has permitted death convicts to have contact with their close family members such as a spouse and children before execution, but starting Sept 1, when the guideline takes effect, those about to be executed may also meet with other relatives or friends with a justifiable reason.
The 13-article guideline from the Supreme People's Court aims to better regulate procedures for review of death sentences and the execution.
Under the guideline, courts should inform those on death row that they have the right to those meetings, and they must tell the defendants if the people that the inmates wish to see refuse the meeting.
If someone applies to meet with his or her child under the age of 18, courts should first ask for approval from the child's guardian. A video meeting will be arranged if courts, after a review, believe a face-to-face meeting would affect the children's physical or mental health, it said.
The last words of convicts facing the death penalty can be recorded by audio or video, it said.
Ruan Chuansheng, a law professor at the Shanghai Administration Institute, said such a guideline will unify different practices in the implementation of executions carried out by courts nationwide.
"We've had basic principles to carry out executions, such as informing of the right to meetings of convicts facing the death penalty, but what courts should do for the meeting and how to arrange the meeting are not specified," he said.
Ji Chunwei, a criminal lawyer from Guangdong province, said the new rule is a big step forward in human rights protection in the judicial sector.
"The guideline will prevent situations in which some people were informed after their family members had been executed, which has happened before," he said.
The guideline also clarifies some of the other legitimate rights of convicts on death row. It states that a local high court should inform the death penalty convict of the right to hire a defense lawyer to help him or her in the penalty review process. Under current laws, all death sentences in the country must be reviewed by the Supreme People's Court.
The defense lawyer can submit their findings or evidence either to the local high court or directly to the top court, according to the guideline.