Lessons Learned from Death Row Inmate’s Acquittal?

Lessons Learned from Death Row Inmate’s Acquittal?

In a commentary translated at Dui Hua Human Rights Journal, The Beijing News’ Zhu Changjun attacks the Fujian High Court’s efforts to put a positive spin on the acquittal of Nian Bin last August. Nian spent eight years in prison awaiting execution after confessing to two murders, allegedly under torture. This week, a lower court awarded him $186,000 compensation. According to a work report from the Fujian High Court, the case’s resolution “caused a positive impact both legally and socially.” But Zhu argues:

Overturning the verdict in the Nian Bin case merely reflects the ordinary operation of the judicial system’s mechanisms to correct errors. Correcting these errors is a basic responsibility of a reasonable judicial system. It’s really inappropriate for local high courts to one-sidedly prettify this sort of action in a work report.

[…] If it weren’t for the persistence of Nian Bin’s relatives and lawyers and the decision of the [Supreme People’s Court] not to approve the death sentence, the outcome would be utterly unimaginable. In summing up the case as a participant, the Fujian high court ought to place its primary emphasis on the lessons and errors that led to this wrongful conviction in the first place. It should offer a deep reflection on and take appropriate responsibility for negligence and flaws in trying the case. To talk so single-mindedly about “impact” and “turning negatives into positives” is not only flippant; it makes it difficult for people to have any faith that the court has learned any lessons about miscarriages of justice. [Source]

Read more about the case via CDT.

The court was not alone in citing Nian’s acquittal as a great success. After Human Rights Watch published its 2015 World Report last month, criticizing China on several fronts, Xinhua published a retort by Meng Qingtao of the Southwest University of Political Science and Law:

Human Rights Watch, which poses as a “human rights guardian”, continued its accusations against China’s human rights situation in its “World Report 2015”. One thing that is for sure is that the report has methodological flaws – the real human rights situation in a country cannot only be a one-sided story from a single voice. If the real feelings of the people in the country involved were neglected, people will only see the solo dance by the opinionated Human Rights Watch.

As a scholar in law, I believe that if you review the pulsations of the country’s judicial reform in 2014, China has given the promotion of human rights its best shot. The Chinese people witnessed the righting of several miscarriages of justice last year.

On Aug. 22, Nian Bin was acquitted by the higher people’s court in the eastern province of Fujian, eight years after being wrongly imprisoned for murder. It meant curtains for the case after ten trials, four guilty verdicts, three overturns of judgments and six adjourned hearing orders by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC). The correction was achieved by strict abidance by the criminal judicial principle of “innocent until proved guilty.” [Source]

Meng went on to praise the acquittals of Nie Shubin and Huugjilt, who were executed in 1995 and 1996, respectively.


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