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emanreus Post time: 2016-2-4 17:26
innocent until proved guilty
China suspects presumed guilty until proven innocent
Spate of wrongful convictions reveal shortcomings of judicial system with prosecutors putting pressure on judges over verdicts
It was a short drive that would cost them a decade. In May 2003, Zhang Gaoping and his nephew, Zhang Hui, picked up a hitchhiker en route to Shanghai and dropped her off in the coastal metropolis of Hangzhou. The following morning, the 17-year-old girl's naked corpse was pulled from a drainage ditch. The two were hastily convicted of rape and murder, and spent 10 years in jail.
The case was closed, but far from over. The Zhangs were released in late March owing to new evidence showing the possibility of another suspect, state media reported. Zhejiang province's top court reversed the ruling. DNA samples, it said, had implicated another man, and police may have used illegal methods to extract the Zhangs' confessions.
On Monday it was reported that the court has awarded the Zhanges £120,000 each to "compensate them for the deprivation of their personal freedom, as well as mental damage" – slightly less than they had requested, but more than courts have granted in similar high-profile cases.
Chinese media have revealed a handful of cases like the Zhangs' recently, shedding light on the prevalence of wrongful convictions in China and the systemic shortcomings in the judicial system that allow them to occur.
Zhang Gaoping, 47, told state media that he and his nephew were subject to seven days of brutal interrogation before trial – sleep deprivation, starvation, cigarette burns. Other detainees pressured them into signing confessions, which, it was revealed, were drafted by police.
Other cases have been equally shocking. Zhao Yanjin, of Hebei province, was released in February after nearly 10 years behind bars – she had been charged with orchestrating the murder of a neighbour's six-year-old son in 2005. Zhao said police beat her so badly during her interrogation that she suffered permanent hearing loss.
In Xiaoshan, Zhejiang province, five people were released this year after spending 17 years in jail, wrongfully convicted of robbing and murdering two taxi drivers in March 1995. While investigating an unrelated case last winter, police discovered that a suspect's fingerprints matched those found at the murder scene 17 years earlier.
After a string of cases involving wrongful convictions, the executive vice-president of China's highest court has denounced such miscarriages of justice. "It is even preferable to spare guilty people than to hand down wrongful punishment to the innocent," Shen Deyong wrote in the supreme people's court-owned newspaper People's Court Daily. Wrongful convictions, he said, often arise from "corruption, negligence and irresponsible attitudes in judicial agencies".
Last year, courts in Henan province introduced a pilot programme to hold judges responsible for wrongful convictions, even after they switch posts or retire.
Yet critics say the problem lies with the country's judicial system as a whole, in which judges are appointed by Communist party officials and often show stronger allegiance to their superiors than objective standards of justice.
Lan Rongjie, a law professor at Zhejiang University, said judges were often close to police and prosecutors, who placed them under enormous pressure to find suspects guilty. Because suspects often spend months, even years, in detention centres before trial, an innocent verdict could subject the police and prosecutors to legal scrutiny.
"Sometimes they will be found guilty of torture," Lan said. "Torture is a very serious charge."
According to the China Law Yearbook, 99.9% of China's criminal cases in 2009 ended in convictions. Lan said that regular criminal trials in China's cities normally last less than two hours. Summary trials can be less than 30 minutes long.