BEIJING - China on Friday eliminated capital punishment for some economic crimes, as it moved to curb use of the death penalty in a country believed to execute more people than the rest of the world combined.
The standing committee of China's National People's Congress passed an amendment to the nation's criminal law that took 13 offences off the list of 68 crimes punishable by death, the legislature said on its website.
"The 13 crimes that have been exempted from the death penalty are mainly economic and non-violent crimes," Lang Sheng, a parliamentary member, told reporters.
"Of course we still have capital punishment and these crimes punishable by death are based on the needs of our economic and social development, the actual situation of social safety," Lang said, according to an online transcript.
State media said crimes that are now exempt from capital punishment included tax fraud and "carrying out fraudulent activities with financial bills".
Other offences including the smuggling of cultural relics, precious metals and rare animals, as well as "robbing ancient cultural ruins", were also taken off the list.
The amendment, which was first submitted in August, also says anyone over the age of 75 at the time of trial is exempt from capital punishment unless they have committed murder "with exceptional cruelty", Xinhua news agency said.
Previously, only convicts younger than 18 or pregnant at the time of trial were exempt.
The new rules take effect on May 1.
According to Amnesty International, China executes more people each year than the rest of the world put together, but the exact number remains a closely guarded state secret.
China has taken measures in recent years to rein in the use of capital punishment, including requiring the country's supreme court to review all such sentences before they are carried out.
Most executions are imposed for violent crimes such as murder and robbery, state media has said, but drug trafficking and some corruption cases also are punishable by death.
Of the 68 crimes previously punishable by death in China, 44 did not involve violent acts.
China has overturned 10 percent of death sentences handed down in the country since the top court began reviewing them in 2007, an official said in November.
In a report issued last year, Amnesty said the number of people executed in China was "believed to be in the thousands", compared with second-ranked Iran, which the rights group said carried out at least 388 executions in 2009.
Firing squads have traditionally been used in Chinese executions, but in recent years the state has increasingly adopted lethal injections.
The amendment also made drunken driving and "racing cars" on public roads criminal offences, Lang said -- upgrading them from simple traffic violations.