China will start executing prisoners by lethal injection rather than bullets by the end of this year, state media said Tuesday.

This method is described as a new and more humane form of death penalty, raising China to the level of other modern nations.

Hu Yunteng, director general of the research bureau of the Supreme People's Court, told China Daily that lethal injections are considered safer.

“It is considered more humane as it reduces the criminals' fear and pain compared with gunshot execution,” Mr. Hu said.

Human rights activists have accused Chinese prison authorities of involvement in the trafficking of organs taken from executed prisoners.

For this reason some people suspect that execution by lethal injection was adopted in order to better preserve organs for sale.

China executes more people every year than any country in the world, with 5,000 expected to take place this year, according to the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights monitoring group.

Rights group Amnesty International has opposed the expansion of China's lethal injection program, calling for an end to the death penalty in the country.

Last year some 1,700 people were executed in mainland China. This represents 70 per cent of the total number of executions world-wide.