With information on the number of executions in China still a state secret, it is difficult for researchers to examine the impact of new policies. Since 2013, however, the Supreme People’s Court has been publishing an online database of judgements. Although there are “missing cases”, the database has become a rich trove of information for scholars and researchers keen to better understand the application of the death penalty in China. At a meeting in Bangkok in January 2019, The Rights Practice brought together legal scholars, policy advocates and PhD students to explore the use of empirical research on the death penalty and policy advocacy. In a stimulating opening presentation, Dr Henning Glaser considered international advocacy in support of abolition of the death penalty and observed that, in countries like China, it is probably easier to discuss the how of the death penalty rather than the why.  

One attendee, Professor Zhang, noted the absence of a strong empirical research tradition in Chinese legal studies and the importance of fostering, among young researchers, new skills and collaboration with colleagues in the social sciences. Working in English, the workshop gave Chinese PhD students an opportunity to present their findings on the death penalty and public opinion, forensic expertise and access to justice. Following feedback from the workshop, Chinese students plan to publish their research in Chinese journals.

Malaysian, Thai and Indonesian experts shared their experience with Chinese colleagues in discussions on issues of common concern from the death penalty for non-violent crime, particularly drug crime, to the treatment of the mentally ill. Edmund Bon Tai Soon, Malaysian lawyer and former Malaysian representative to ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights shared details of a research project with a local NGO to analyse death penalty cases and the risk of miscarriages of justice. The research project revealed the need for comprehensive rights to freedom of information.

The two-day international workshop was held with the German-Southeast Asian Centre of Excellence for Public Policy and Good Governance (CPG) at Thammasat University and was supported by the European Union.