New Wrongful Conviction Cases Revealed as Chinese Media Examine Criminal Justice System

May 9, 2005

Since late March, Chinese media have reported widely on the wrongful convictions of Nie Shubin and She Xianglin and problems in the criminal justice system that led to these cases (see related stories 1, 2, 3). In the wake of this discussion, the Legal Daily and People’s Daily have reported details on two additional wrongful convictions involving similar patterns of police abuse and convictions based on questionable evidence. Although neither case is new, the reports suggest an effort to demonstrate that the Nie and She cases are not aberrations.

The People’s Daily reported on the case of Li Huawei, which it called "Liaoning’s She Xianglin Case," on April 15. According to the report, police detained Li for the murder of his pregnant wife in 1986. Although Li reportedly "confessed" to the crime after detention, he maintained his innocence at trial (suggesting that police coerced his confession). The People’s Daily reports that there was considerable public pressure in the case, and Li’s defense lawyer indicates that the local Party political-legal committee met to decide the case. A local court convicted him of murder on minimal evidence but suspended application of the death sentence because facts were "uncertain." For the next 14 years, Li sat in prison as his parents petitioned for his release. Finally, in 2000, one of Li’s former neighbors confessed to the crime and provided details of the crime scene. Police released Li on bail the next year, and in 2002 a local court formally declared him innocent. According to a Boxun report, he received state compensation this year.

On April 17, the Legal Daily reported on the wrongful conviction of Huang Manxing for the murder of his wife in 1996. Police detained Huang for the murder on the basis of witness testimony later found to be faulty. However, 10 days after his detention, Huang "confessed" to the crime. At trial, Huang denied killing his wife and charged that police obtained his confession through fraud and torture. Despite this allegation and problems with the evidence, a local court convicted Huang and sentenced him to death. On appeal, a higher court found problems with the trial, reversed the verdict, and returned the case for retrial. The court convicted Huang again on retrial, but again the case was rejected on appeal and returned to the lower court. After two additional rounds of retrial, conviction (but with reduced sentences), and rejection of the trial verdict on appeal, the local prosecutor finally decided to drop the charges and released Huang after seven years in detention. Huang, whose health was broken by the years in custody, has reportedly encountered difficulty obtaining state compensation or convincing police to find his wife’s real killer.