Duong Chi Dung (C), former chairman of state shipping giant Vinalines, stood an appeal trial in Hanoi last April. He and one of his subordinates were sentenced to death for embezzling VND10 billion (US$474,000) each in a dock scam busted in May 2012. Photo: Hoang Trang
Many lawmakers have objected to the government's plan to let convicts escape death penalties by returning half of the money or property they gained from their offenses.
According to the proposal, part of a series of amendments drafted for Vietnam's Penal Code, the rule should be applied to people who do not commit "extremely serious" crimes, without specifying which ones.
Lawmakers interpreted the proposal as a way out for corruption convicts, arguing that they will be the main beneficiary and that the rule, if passed, will cause injustice.
Nguyen Duc Chung, an assemblyman from Hanoi, said at a meeting on Tuesday it is "unfair" that corrupt officials who steal a huge amount of public money can live, while while poor people who deal drugs have to accept death sentences because they have no money to pay.
The death penalty needs to remain as the highest punishment for corruption crimes, or laws will lose their deterrence effect, he said.
Huynh Ngoc Anh from Ho Chi Minh City agreed, saying that it is "not right" to make light of a crime which Vietnam has been fighting but not managed to stop yet.
Seven crimes have been proposed to be removed from Vietnam's death penalty list.
They are robbery, vandalizing equipment and works significant to national security, gross disturbances of public order, surrendering to enemy forces, acts of sabotage and waging invasive wars, crimes against humanity, and drug smuggling.
However, Le Dong Phong, another assemblyman from HCMC, said some of these including war crimes rarely happen, but in many countries around the world they are still punishable by death to prevent them effectively.
He also opposed a proposed rule that would reduce the highest punishment for drug mules to life sentence, arguing that not all of the convicts are poor people who desperately earn their living by smuggling drugs.
Instead, the government may consider increasing the amount of involved drugs that justifies a death sentence, Phong suggested.
Under Vietnam’s current drug laws, which are considered among the toughest in the world, anyone convicted of smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or more than 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine faces death.
The government is also seeking to eliminate the death penalty for criminals aged 70 and above. Currently only pregnant women and women who are raising children under three years old are eligible for the concession.