Gunshot executions in Beijing are being replaced with "more humane" lethal injections that will largely be administered in 'death penalty' vans.

Five thousand condemned prisoners are expected to be executed by an armed officer in Chinathis year — but, for those in the capital, punishment will be carried out in a different manner.

Hu Yunteng, research director of the People's Supreme Court, said: "Lethal injection is considered more humane as it reduces criminals' fear and pain compared with a gunshot execution."

Police and medical staff are being trained by the Beijing Municipal People's Court in how to administer the lethal doses.

Many of the executionswill take place in purpose-built execution vans where the prisoner is strapped to a stretcher and put to death by injection.

The sentence is carried out in private.

The vans cost $60,000 but can be driven to courts across the country wherever they are required.

At present the lethal injection policy is limited to Beijing, but could be extended nationwide.

Human rights activists believe there is dual purpose for the use of the execution vans.

The jabs would end public executions that have done little to counter international opposition to China's frequent use of capital punishment.

They would also give the authorities the opportunity to harvest organs of executed prisoners to supply the insatiable demand from the country's growing market for organ transplant.

Amnesty Internationalhas opposed the introduction of the lethal injection policy and calls for a blanket ban on the death penalty in China.

The Chinese government has amended legislation in 2007, before the Olympics, to ensure all death sentences are reviewed by the Supreme People's Court.

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