Zhang Yuhuan, 53, was released on Tuesday after the Supreme People’s Court in eastern Jiangxi found him “not guilty” for lack of evidence, the Chinese state-run media reported to the Global Times.
The result came after a long-standing legal battle to overturn the sentence and shows the ongoing problems within the Chinese legal system.
In 1993, two boys were found dead in Nanchang City, Jiangxi Province, according to the report. The police suspected that the boys’ neighbor, Zhang, killed them.
In 1995, Zhang was sentenced to death with two years of reparation, which means that if he does not commit other crimes within two years, his death sentence will be commuted to life imprisonment, the state-run China Daily reported.
However, Zhang appealed to a higher court, arguing that he was not the murderer, and claimed that the police tortured him during the interrogation, the report said.
The Supreme Court ordered a retrial, but it didn̵
7;t take place until November 2001, China Daily reported. The interim court upheld the original verdict and later appeal was dismissed.
Zhang and his family continued to insist that he was innocent – and finally the Jiangxi Supreme People’s Court reopened the case in March last year, according to the report. He was found not guilty on Tuesday.
“After reviewing the materials, we found that there was no direct evidence to prove Zhang’s belief, so we accepted the prosecutor’s proposal and found Zhang innocent,” said Judge Tian Ganlin.
Zhang can now apply for state compensation, the Global Times reported.
According to the China Daily report, Zhang said that the wrong belief cost him the best years of his life. His two sons are now married and have their own children.
“It is difficult for the compensation to make up for the harm of the illegal conviction for me and my family, but I still hope to be compensated quickly to repair my house and take care of my mother,” said Zhang.
Human rights activists have criticized the Chinese legal system for years, claiming it allows unfair trials, torture and other ill-treatment in detention.
China has tried to reform its legal system. According to the Global Times report, China officially adopted the legal principle “innocent to demonstrably guilty” in 1996.
In 2013, an influential Communist Party legal commission issued new guidelines calling for a fairer trial in China’s highly malicious judicial system.
However, problems remain with the country’s legal system. China’s judicial system has a conviction rate of around 99%, according to legal observers. The ruling Communist Party also remains committed. Courts are seen primarily as a “political organ,” according to the country’s chief judge, Zhou Qiang.
It remains unusual for people to overturn beliefs – although Zhang is not the first.
In 2013, a man who had served 17 years of life imprisonment for the murder of his wife was released after a Supreme People’s Court in Anhui Province ruled that “the facts about the alleged murder were unclear and the evidence inadequate” .
In 2016, China’s highest court overturned a rape and murder conviction of Nie Shubin – more than two decades after his execution.
Ruan Chuansheng, a law professor at the Shanghai Administration Institute, said that the ruling in Zhang’s case, according to China Daily, shows the further development of the rule of law. But he also said that judicial authorities could help prevent illegal convictions by excluding evidence obtained from torture.