China Is Victimizing Hordes Of Innocent People


by Hans Sherrer


For Justice Denied Magazine


October 2, 2001


China leads the world in convicting and executing people for capital crimes. The veil of secrecy concealing the tactics used in China to generate convictions is slowly being lifted, and it reveals that many of the condemned are innocent.


That emphasizes that the victimization of innocent people by a wrongful conviction is not isolated to a particular country. The procedures and time allotted for uncovering those injustices, however, varies widely between countries. In the U.S. for example, it takes an average of about 10 years and multiple appeals for an innocent person convicted of a capital crime to be exonerated. China, in comparison, has an investigation, prosecution and appeal process that can result in only a few weeks passing from the time someone first comes under suspicion to the conducting of their trial, and if convicted, their sentencing to imprisonment or execution.


As the world's leader in executing people, there is a growing awareness that an untold number of innocent people are being victimized by China's fast track system. By and large, they are the majority of defendant's who don't have the money, political connections or legal representation, to delay their execution long enough to rectify their wrongful conviction.


A recent case of a wrongful conviction in China involved the 1996 murder of Ms. Tao Ziyu in Anhui Province. Her body was found floating in a pond, and other than her killer, the last person to see Ms. Ziyu alive was an elderly woman who reported to the police she saw her and a man arguing near the pond. The police investigation concluded Ms. Ziyu had been strangled by a left-handed person.


Sixty-three years old, married, and a former associate professor at a technical institute, Mr. Liu Minghe was arrested for her murder based on the suspicion he might have been Ms. Ziyu's lover. Liu, however, proclaimed his innocence. He not only had witnesses who could verify his whereabouts at the time of the argument by the pond, but he is right-handed.


After Liu had been in custody without charges for almost three months the police began interrogating him around the clock. Denied access to a lawyer and his wife, he was physically tortured by being handcuffed to a window so that for long periods of time he had to stand or hang by his wrists, and he was denied water or sleep. The police also psychologically tortured him by telling him that if he didn't confess within ten days he would probably be executed. Promised a lighter sentence, Liu broke after three days. In a videotaped confession he listlessly answered 'yes' in response to questions about the crime asked by the police.


Liu retracted his confession as coerced and untrue as soon as he had contact with the outside world. The authorities ignored his retraction and proceeded with his prosecution. Although his confession was unsupported by any physical evidence, and it was contradicted by his verifiable alibi and his right-handedness, the judges nevertheless relied on it to convict him of Ms. Ziyu's murder.


On December 20, 1996 Liu was sentenced to death. His execution was only staved off by his families ability to hire a legal expert in Beijing to handle his appeal. After three appeals and five years of imprisonment in squalid conditions, Liu's conviction was finally overturned by the provincial court. Released from prison in August 2001, Liu was immediately hospitalized with severe diabetes and high blood pressure.


Liu Minghe's case was an exception to the typical rubber stamping of a conviction on appeal in China. His longtime Communist Party membership and his social position may have influenced the appeals court to delay his execution and look closer than normal at his case. He was also aided by his families ability to spend the enormous sum in China of $36,000 on his defense. Without his families resources, he would have been unceremoniously executed within weeks, or even days of his sentencing, as indigent defendants in China routinely are. The quality of justice a defendant is accorded in China, just like in the U.S., is related to how much money they can spend on their defense.


Another of China's death row inmates recently exonerated was Du Peiwu. He was released in November 2000-after several car-thieves confessed to the crime he proclaimed he was innocent of: the shooting deaths of his wife and a policeman in April 1998.


A policeman in Yunnan province, Du was denied a lawyer during his interrogation, and he claimed he was tortured into falsely confessing to the murders. To prove his mistreatment, Du took his shirt off during his trial to reveal wounds from being beaten, hung by handcuffed wrists, and shocked with a cattle prod. Ignoring the stark evidence he had been tortured into confessing, the judges convicted him in spite of his solid alibi and no physical evidence linking him to the murders. Du then appealed his conviction.


Forcing confessions is technically illegal in China. So after Du's exoneration the two policemen who tortured him were prosecuted. Prosecutors and judges, however, give a nod and wink to police torturers. It isn't surprising then, that in August 2001 the two policemen were respectively given 12 and 18 month suspended sentences.


Although encouraging, the exoneration of Liu Minghe and Du Peiwu of capital crimes are extraordinary due to their rarity. Unlike most innocent capital defendants, they were able to delay their execution long enough to overturn their wrongful convictions: it took 5 years for Liu and 2-1/2 years for Du.


With everything from tax fraud to stealing diesel to murder considered a capital offense, it is estimated that at least 3,000 people were executed in China from April to August 2001, and triple that number were sentenced to death. There is no question that a large number of those convicted men and women are innocent, since the police in China are financially rewarded for extracting a confession.


So in spite of its illegality, the rampant use of physical and psychological torture is tacitly encouraged by China's Public Security Ministry (equivalent of the United States’s Department of Justice).


The victimization of hordes of innocent people in China is not surprising to people who are aware of the comparable situation in this country. As in China, confessions are relied on to solve the overwhelming majority of criminal cases in the United States: over 92% of all state and federal convictions are obtained by physically and psychologically induced confessions, that are all too often coerced.


So it is predictable that anywhere confessions, and not police footwork is relied on to solve crimes, there will be a high percentage of wrongful convictions. We can only hope China revises its appeal procedures to permit the opportunity for more innocent people to be exonerated prior to suffering the horror of a long imprisonment, or the irreversible punishment of execution.




Source: “Chinese Crackdown Spurs Huge Wave of Executions,” Craig S. Smith (N.Y.Times), The Seattle Times, September 9, 2001, A4.