Landmark judgment upholds justice
Dec 2, 2016, is an important day for a person named Nie Shubin, or rather his family. Twenty-one years after Nie was sentenced to death and executed for rape and murder, he was found innocent by the Second Circuit Court of the Supreme People’s Court.
Nie was executed in 1995, so the court declaring him innocent cannot bring him back to life. Yet the court verdict is a landmark in China’s judicial history.
It was in June 2016 that the Supreme People’s Court decided to start the retrial of Nie’s case. Earlier, in December 2014, it had asked the Shandong provincial people’s court to re-investigate the case. For two full years, scores of people, including judges, lawyers, as well as journalists, endeavored to unearth the truth. They were searching for the answer to one question: Was Nie innocent as his family claimed?
The Supreme People’s Court verdict proves he was indeed innocent. As a leading official of the court said in an interview after the retrial, they invested much time and efforts into the case to make sure the court verdict stands the test of time. Incorrect judgments happen in all countries, usually because of the lack of strong evidence. A judiciary that subsequently corrects a wrong ruling is the one that upholds justice.
Nie’s case is a tragedy because he was wrongly sentenced and executed. Wang Shujin, who was arrested for committing some other crimes in 2005, admitted he was guilty of the rape and murder for which Nie was executed. It was his admission of guilt that started the re-investigation into Nie’s trial.
What if Wang was not caught or did not admit he was guilty?
We can prevent others from suffering Nie’s tragic fate by strengthening the rule of law.
In the interview after the retrial, the leading official of the Supreme People’s Court said the country’s top leadership has been deepening judicial reform, strengthening judicial protection to human rights, and paying greater attention to the correction and prevention of wrong sentences.
In October 2014, the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China vowed to comprehensively promote the rule of law and encourage the entire nation to work together to achieve that goal.
Nie’s case is a lesson for the judiciary, the Supreme People’s Court official said, which will help the courts to better protect the legal rights of suspects in the future, so as to prevent similar tragedies.
The Hebei provincial people’s court, which passed the sentence against Nie in 1995, said it would start the preparations to pay State compensation to Nie’s family, and will investigate to find out whether court officials violated the law in dealing with Nie’s case. If the law was broken, those responsible will face due punishments.
We hope the ongoing efforts to correct past wrongs achieve success, and the rule of law is further strengthened so that people like Nie and their families do not suffer.
The author is a writer with China Daily. email@example.com