Reuters reports about a Chinese case where a man who was supposedly hacked to death in a fight has reappeared in his hometown after 10 years, raising questions about police torture to extract a confession from the alleged killer.
Zhao Zuohai, the supposed killer, was acquitted of the crime and released by a Henan court May 8, 2010. He had served 10 years of a 29-year sentence after confessing to killing Zhao Zhenshang in a hatchet fight in central China’s Henan province. A headless body was found in a village well about a year after the fight, at which point Zhao was arrested and confessed to the killing. The victim, Zhao Zhenshang, reappeared in the village on May 2, 2010, to seek welfare support. He had fled after the fight because he feared he had killed the now-imprisoned Zhao. He showed little remorse for his rival’s prison ordeal, telling one newspaper: “He had such a bad temper. He needed a lesson somewhere, somehow.”
Convictions in the Chinese court system are strongly dependent on confessions, motivating police to use force to get a confession and close the case. A series of deaths in police custody over the last year has emboldened reformers and aided a fight by the Ministry of Justice to wrest control of detention centres from the police. The courts conducted an audit of all death penalty cases after a woman in Hubei province reappeared over a decade after her husband, She Xianglin, was jailed for her murder, in a case that also rested on his confession to police. Relatives who maintained She is innocence were also jailed.
The imprisoned Zhao’s brother told the local Dahe Newspaper that police had forced him to drink chili water and set off fireworks over his head to force the confession. The imprisoned Zhao narrowly escaped being executed for the crime. His sentence was commuted from a death penalty with two years’ reprieve. While in prison, his wife left him for another man and three of his four children were given to other families for adoption, the China Daily said.
The Henan authorities announced that the newly liberated man is to be awarded 650,000 yuan in compensation – roughly £4,000 pounds for each year of his false imprisonment. Had his supposed victim not fallen on hard times and resurfaced in his hometown in search of welfare support, Zhao Zuohai would have languished in his cell until well into his seventies.
Between 1999 and 2001, Zhao Zuohai pleaded guilty to murder nine times. “They taught me how to plead guilty. They told me to repeat what they said, and I had to, or I would be beaten. They wrote down what I repeated and said it was my confession.”
Police are probing the case, and have assured him that those who secured the wrongful conviction will feel the full weight of the law. To date, two police officers have been detained on suspicion of torturing him to get a confession. A third policeman is at large, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
The Beijing government has promised to clamp down on inmate torture. Last year nearly 1,800 policemen were suspended, according to a report released on the Ministry of Public Security website. “Confessions extracted through torture are unreliable,” Shangqiu’s police chief Xu Dagang told Xinhua. “Police officers should learn to handle criminal cases in a more intelligent and scientific manner.” The post is here.