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December 23, 2013

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‘Sorry’ is not enough for wrongful convictions

A WRONGLY convicted man who was almost executed for the rape and murder of a child has received 1 million yuan (US$160,000) as state compensation after serving 12 years in prison.

Li Huailiang was the latest convict to leave death row, receive a belated “not guilty” verdict, and compensation from the government.

Li stood trial seven times and was given three different sentences for the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl in Pingdingshan, Henan Province, in August 2001.

The farmer was condemned to death, then death with a two-year reprieve, and after that, 15 years in prison. Each verdict was overturned “due to lack of evidence,” but he was not formally acquitted until April this year, when he was released from prison.

Li’s case is not isolated; it’s only the latest among a series of  similar tragedies involving wrongful convictions.

Others may not be as lucky as Li.

Hugejiletu was wrongly executed in Hohhot, capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, 62 days after a woman was found raped and killed at a local toilet on April 9, 1996.

The innocent man went to police after he discovered the corpse, but he was arrested as the only suspect and found guilty in a hasty trial.

Another man who confessed to the murder in 2005 is still in jail awaiting trial.

Deputy Chief Prosecutor Zhu Xiaoqing of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate once admitted that serious miscarriages of justice in recent years had mainly been caused by coercion during interrogation.

As we all know, due process is the fundamental of all sorts of laws.

In the Hohhot case, media reports revealed that Hugejiletu had been tortured and forced to plead guilty. No officials involved in or responsible for the case has been questioned or punished.

In another widely reported case, She Xianglin was wrongly jailed for 11 years for a murder that never happened.

The former security guard from Hubei Province was convicted on the basis of his confession of killing his wife, despite the fact that her body was never found.

He said he was deprived of sleep during 10 days of interrogation until he signed documents pleading guilty to murder. He was cleared in 2005 after his “dead” wife reappeared in her hometown. The government awarded She almost 500,000 yuan (US$61,880 at that time) in compensation.

In May 2010, Zhao Zuohai, a farmer in Henan Province, was acquitted after the man he was convicted of killing turned up alive. Before that, Zhao had spent 11 years in prison. Prosecutors said Zhao had been tortured before he made his confession.

Another high-profile scandal involved Zhang Hui and his uncle Zhang Gaoping. Zhang Hui was sentenced to death and Zhang Gaoping given life in prison by the Hangzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court on April 21, 2004, for the rape and murder of a 17-year-old girl.

Their sentences were commuted to a death sentence with a two-year reprieve for Zhang Hui and a 15-year prison term for Zhang Gaoping, by the Higher People’s Court of Zhejiang Province on October 19, 2004.

A DNA test later suggested an executed convict was the suspect in the murder. The Zhangs were acquitted in March.

Policewoman Nie Haifen in charge of the case had been named a star detective and received many honors.

In the Zhangs’ case, interrogators were also reported to have told a jailhouse bully to beat Zhang Hui and force him to confess.

No more extortion

It seemed that all the wrongful convictions involved confessions extracted with torture, but the officers in charge of the cases were usually promoted.

On November 21, China’s Supreme People’s Court issued an opinion directing judges to exclude evidence and testimony obtained through torture, extortion and other illegal methods.

It says that wrongful criminal judgments, illegal evidence and defendant testimony must be ruled out if they are obtained through torture, sleep deprivation, hunger, exposure to extreme temperature and other methods.

It is hoped that these reforms will be implemented to the letter.



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