China is a country ruled by law. That’s the Communist Party mantra of the moment. But sending senior leaders like Bo Xilai for trial is not enough. What people really need to see are examples of ordinary citizens getting justice.
Hence the interest in the retrial of Qoysiletu, an ethnic Mongolian, executed for the murder and rape of a female factory worker in Hohhot in 1996 when he was just 18.
The case has long been held up as a glaring example of how police corruption, politicised courts and capital punishment can result in heartbreaking mistakes.
Qoysiletu, the person who reported finding the dead body of the victim, was arrested. While in police custody he confessed to attacking her. Later in court he retracted his confession but it was too late. Sixty-two days after the crime had been discovered, he faced the firing squad.
This is where Qoysiletu’s case might normally have ended. But nine years later another man called Zhao Zhihong confessed to the crime.
However, while Zhao was tried and sentenced to death for a series of other attacks, he was not found guilty of murdering the factory worker. His execution was stayed as controversy grew about his confession, with the case settling into a state of Kafkaesque limbo for seven years.
Why so? Well, Qoysiletu’s parents have fought for their son to be legally rehabilitated, but by doing so they’ve prevented the execution of the man whose actions are alleged to have led to the wrongful death of their son.
The local authorities seemed content with this state of paralysis. But last month the supreme court of Inner Mongolia announced it was going to review the case formally.
“We will earnestly implement the spirit of the Central Committee’s Fourth Plenary Session, and the general requirement of the rule of law. We will let the people feel that justice has been done. If we find this case has been judged wrongly we will resolutely correct it in accordance with legal procedure,” the court promised in a statement on its website.
Qoysiletu’s parents used their weibo account to welcome the decision, saying that it “gave them hope”. Many netizens also expressed cautious optimism at the news, with some 240,000 people posting messages on the topic.
“I bow to his parents, they have shown incredible strength,” wrote one. “We hope to build a monument for Qoysiletu. Let people remember this shame of the judicial system,” wrote another.
Others pointed out that this was not an isolated case. In 1995 Nie Shubin, a young farmer from Hebei, was executed for the rape and murder of a woman. Later, another man confessed to the crime.
“With courts like ours I am not sure we should have the death penalty,” warned another netizen.
Indeed, the authorities have proposed that fewer crimes carry the threat of capital punishment. If passed, the new laws will reduce death penalty crimes from 55 to 46 (activities such as illegal fundraising will no longer carry the risk of execution, for instance).
Furthermore, the government announced last week that hospitals will no longer use organs ‘farmed’ from executed prisoners for transplants. Instead China will have to rely on a voluntary donation scheme. These changes raise more problems for Huang Jiefu,the head of China’s organ donation committee, who says that less than one person in a million consents to organ donation. An estimated 300,000 patients are wait-listed every year for organ transplants, and only about one in 30 ultimately receives a transplant. Transplants using donated organs jumped to more than 900 cases in the first seven months of this year from 245 in 2011, but that is still less than half the number of organs from death-row inmates, according to data from Huang.
“Besides traditional beliefs, one of the major roadblocks to the development of our organ donation industry is that people are concerned whether organ donation will be fair, just and transparent,” he said.
Those words could apply to the legal system too…
Keeping track: there have been a number of legal verdicts relating to cases we wrote about last year. First off, a court in Inner Mongolia has finally found an executed teen innocent – 18 years after he was wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of a woman. We featured this case in WiC264, pointing out that some viewed it as a litmus test for President Xi Jinping’s new emphasis on promoting the rule of law. Qoysiletsu, then 18, was found guilty in 1996, and his parents have been trying to have the verdict overturned in the light of another man subsequently admitting to the crime. The court apologised to the parents and gave them Rmb30,000 of “condolence” money. Separately a student from Fudan University who admitted to poisoning his roommate with thallium (see WiC193) was given the death sentence. Some netizens looked at this verdict in a somewhat tangential light – asking why student Lin Senhao got death while Gu Kailai, wife of fallen princeling Bo Xilai, got only a suspended death sentence for poisoning and murdering Neil Heywood. Finally, a court sentenced action star Jackie Chan’s son Jaycee for illegal drug possession. Last week he was given six months of jail time. Jan 16, 2015
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