Man cleared of murder after over 20 years in jail

Mr Chen waving after being released from prison in Hainan yesterday. He had spent more than 20 years in jail before being acquitted due to lack of evidence.
Mr Chen waving after being released from prison in Hainan yesterday. He had spent more than 20 years in jail before being acquitted due to lack of evidence.PHOTO: CHINA FOTO PRESS

Latest case highlights the prevalence of wrongful convictions in China where 99 per cent of defendants are found guilty

SHANGHAI • A man jailed in China more than two decades ago for murder has been acquitted, the latest in a series of wrongful convictions overturned in the country.

Mr Chen Man, who is now 53, was released yesterday from Meilan Prison in south China's Haikou City, in Hainan province, after the Zhejiang Higher People's Court overturned his conviction.

Mr Chen was arrested in 1992, accused of burning down a house in Haikou in which a man died. Stab wounds had been found on the neck and body of the victim and the police later arrested Mr Chen, who is from Sichuan province, for the alleged murder, the China News Service reported.

Mr Chen was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve by Haikou Intermediate People's Court in November 1994.

However, the local procuratorate deemed the sentence "too light" and urged a higher court to adjust it to a death sentence and execute Mr Chen, according to the Zhejiang court. The procuratorate's request was rejected by the Hainan Higher People's Court in 1999, beginning a 16-year appeal ordeal for Mr Chen and his family.

China's top court ordered Mr Chen's case to be re-opened in April last year after he appealed, and the Zhejiang Provincial Higher People's Court retried the case.

Mr Chen Man was convicted solely on the basis of confessions which were "inconsistent" during two trials which convicted him, court judge Zhang Qin said in a statement yesterday.

Yesterday, the High Court of China's eastern Zhejiang province pronounced him not guilty due to "lack of evidence".

"His role in the murder is not clear and the original judgment lacks evidence, therefore, the guilty verdict cannot be confirmed," the Zhejiang court said in its statement.

It said Mr Chen had the right to apply for state compensation.

The president of Hainan Provincial Higher People's Court bowed to Mr Chen after the announcement, the state-run China Daily reported.

The case is the latest highlighting miscarriages of justice in China, where forced confessions are widespread and more than 99 per cent of criminal defendants are found guilty. Mr Chen was convicted solely on the basis of confessions which were "inconsistent" during two trials which convicted him, court judge Zhang Qin said in a statement yesterday.

The government has tried to improve the way courts handle cases of miscarriages of justice following efforts by President Xi Jinping to bolster the rule of law and increase public confidence in the legal system. Wrongful executions have stirred particular outrage, though the death penalty itself remains popular.

Of those exonerated in recent years, Mr Chen spent the longest time in prison, state media said.

For some others, the new verdicts have come too late.

A court in the Inner Mongolia region in 2014 cleared a man named Hugjiltu, who was convicted, sentenced and executed for rape and murder in 1996 at the age of 18.

The declaration of innocence came nine years after another man confessed to the crime.

Twenty-seven officials in China have been "penalised" for his wrongful execution, state news agency Xinhua reported late on Sunday. But only one person will face criminal prosecution, Xinhua said, with 26 others face lighter "administrative penalties".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2016, with the headline 'Man cleared of murder after over 20 years in jail'. Print Edition | Subscribe