The figure emerged in discussions with Chinese officials at a conference earlier this month, reported Dui Hua, a San Francisco-based organization focusing on human rights in China.
The drop came about as a result of legal changes in 2007 that required death penalties to be reviewed by the Supreme People’s Court. Nevertheless, China puts more people to death each year than any other country in the world.
"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 statement released Tuesday.
During a conference in Hangzhou this month, more than 20 Chinese scholars and officials discussed the death penalty. Although China doesn’t disclose the number of executions it carries out, a participant at the meeting said the number had dropped in half since 2007. Dui Hua had estimated in 2006 that China conducted 8,000 executions, so it now believes the number closer to 4,000.
"Chinese participants reiterated China’s long-term goal of abolishing the death penalty, but there was disagreement over when abolition would occur," Dui Hua said in a statement.
China is in the process of reforming its criminal code to reduce the number of crimes punishable by death. In February, it eliminated from the list grave robbery, smuggling rare animals, tax cheating, the theft of fossils, and the smuggling of silver and gold.
Amnesty International has reported that China carries out more execution than all other countries in the world combined. Excluding China, it counted a total of 527 executions in 2010.
-- Barbara Demick
Photo: Filipino protesters gathered near the presidential palace in Manila offer prayers to a convicted drug trafficker executed in China. The man, whose identity has been withheld, was executed in Guilin for smuggling 1.4 kilograms of heroin in 2008. Credit: Dennis M. Sabangan / EPA