A relative and the lawyer of a man acquitted of murdering two children after previous trials found him guilty are urging authorities to investigate the wrongful convictions.
Nian Bin, a 38-year-old hawker, was arrested for the murder of two children with rat poison in 2006 in Fujian province. He supposedly pleaded guilty, but after he was convicted in 2008 by the Fuzhou Intermediate Court, he appealed, claiming police had tortured him into confessing.
He spent more than six years on death row while appeals were considered. Finally on Friday, the Fuzhou High Court released him, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to convict.
“There was a lot of evidence to show that my brother was innocent,” said Nian’s sister, Jianlan, who led the petitioning campaign. “But we didn’t know what the final appeal would rule until the last minute. We were not sure if the authorities were willing to be confronted with their mistake.”
Despite his freedom, Nian went into hiding immediately after being released, as the family of the children who died are still looking for him for revenge.
“They still believe my brother killed their dear children, and I can feel their pain,” said Jianlan. “Both that family and ours are the victims of wrongful convictions. I hope the authorities will open an investigation to give us the truth we deserve.”
Nian Bin’s father died while his son was in jail. His mother was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Nian’s son, who was four at the time of the arrest, is 12 now and barely recognised his father’s face.
Nian Jianlan said her brother broke into tears when he recalled “the dark days he spent in jail after the original conviction. He constantly lived in despair,” she said.
“For more than six years, he had to wear heavy handcuffs and leg irons, leading to muscle atrophy and deformation of his hand joints. Even walking is difficult for him right now ...
“He felt his life was even worse than a dog’s. A dog can at least run away if it’s being tortured, but he couldn’t.”
From a legal perspective, executing an innocent is not uncommon on the mainland. Last year, Supreme People’s Court executive vice-president Shen Deyong urged an end to wrongful convictions after high-profile cases were overturned in high courts in Henan, Zhejiang and Fujian.
Zhang Yansheng, Nian Bin’s leading defence lawyer, said it’s time authorities began to correct the flaws in China’s justice system. He said defence lawyers must be given equal status with prosecutors, and the court system must become independent.
“I heard people say the victory in this case is hard to repeat in other cases, as it takes a lot of effort from the relatives, lawyers, media as well as the public to finally overturn a death sentence. But I don’t agree.
“Not all cases are as complicated as this one, but it is equally important for authorities to confess and correct their mistakes. If they have the courage to correct a case that issued the death penalty four times before, they should be able to correct the others.”