(CNSNews.com) - Just days before it celebrates the 50th anniversary of communist rule Friday, China is executing hundreds of prisoners in what local press reports describe as a clampdown on criminals.
Pro-democracy activists are not known to be among those facing the death penalty, although the Beijing authorities have arrested dissidents, religious sect members and others in the run-up to the celebration.
Mass executions have already begun in some areas. Last week, 26 prisoners said to have been armed robbers, drug smugglers, rapists and murderers were executed in Chongquing, where a local newspaper said the killings were part of a national "strike hard" campaign.
In the southern province of Guangdong, 57 public rallies to be held by Friday will announce rulings in the cases of more than 800 convicted prisoners, and around 240 are expected to be executed.
Amnesty International issued a report this week decrying human rights violations in China, and calling for an end to "arbitrary detention, torture and executions."
"The Chinese leadership must decide whether China in the next 50 years will be ruled by law and justice and respect its citizens' human rights, or remain known as a country where serious human rights violations occur on a daily basis and state officials routinely ignore the law," the London-based group said.
About half of all executions worldwide are carried out in China, where condemned prisoners are usually shot in the back of the head, sometimes in public.
Since the end of last year, the Chinese had conducted the most serious clampdown on political dissent since the 1989 Tiananmen Square episode, Amnesty charged.
"In the name of 'stability' they have detained a broad range of people who dared to exercise peacefully their rights to freedom of expression or association and sentenced some to long prison terms for 'subversion' under sweeping 'national security' provisions introduced in 1997.
The rights group said that even as China was giving assurances to the world community "that it is moving toward greater observance of international human rights standards" it was in fact "doing just the contrary."
On Monday, President Jiang Zemin used the occasion of a Fortune magazine-organized business conference in Shanghai to defend China's human rights record.
Jiang was quoted in reports as saying Beijing was opposed to "any efforts by any country to impose its own social system and ideology on another country." He also stressed again China's preparedness to use force if necessary to extend mainland sovereignty over Taiwan.
Guests at the gathering included former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Time-Warner's Ted Turner.
Some half a million Chinese are expected to participate Friday in a huge parade featuring military hardware and missiles