Jus­tice at last

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By CAO YIN

My story of 2016 came as the year drew to a close. It fea­tured Zhang Huanzhi, a He­bei prov­ince na­tive who spent more than 20 years at­tempt­ing to clear her dead son’s name, and fi­nally suc­ceeded.

In 1994, Zhang’s son, 21-yearold Nie Shu­bin, was ex­e­cuted af­ter be­ing con­victed of rape and murder. Shortly af­ter the ex­e­cu­tion, Zhang, who re­fused to be­lieve that her son com­mit­ted the crimes, ap­pealed the ver­dict in the hope of quash­ing the con­vic­tion.

The case re­turned to the pub­lic eye in 2005, when a man named Wang Shu­jin was ar­rested for an al­leged rape and murder.

While in de­ten­tion, Wang con­fessed that he had com­mit­ted the crimes that cost Nie his life.

Fol­low­ing the con­fes­sion, the ju­di­cial bod­ies in He­bei re­opened the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Nie’s case.

In De­cem­ber 2014, the Supreme Peo­ple’s Court, China’s top ju­di­cial body, or­dered the Shan­dong Pro­vin­cial High Peo­ple’s Court to rein­ves­ti­gate the case.

In June, the top body or­dered a ju­nior cham­ber, the Sec­ond Cir­cuit Court in Shenyang, cap­i­tal of Liaon­ing prov­ince, to retry the case.

On Dec 2, Nie’s con­vic­tion was quashed and his name was cleared, 21 years af­ter his ex­e­cu­tion.

Zhang wept as the judg­ment was an­nounced, and shouted: “I’ve been hop­ing for this day for a long time, but it won’t bring my son back.”

Watch­ing the weep­ing mother in the pub­lic gallery of the court, I was un­able to hold back my tears.

The ap­peal and re­trial process were dev­as­tat­ing for the 72-yearold be­cause ap­peal­ing a ver­dict in China’s courts is a time-con­sum­ing and of­ten heart­break­ing process.

When Zhang ex­plained in a trem­bling voice that her more than two decades of ef­fort had been worth it, I felt the deep love a mother has for her child, and mar­veled at her per­sis­tence.

It was not the first time I had wit­nessed a rul­ing be­ing an­nounced, but it was the first time I had felt so ner­vous about the out­come.

I have cov­ered China’s le­gal scene for more than six years, and I al­ways tell my­self not to be eas­ily touched or af­fected by in­ter­vie­wees, be­cause one needs a clear, calm head to write their sto­ries.

But when the rul­ing was read out, I for­got my golden rule be­cause Nie’s par­don was a mo­ment of val­i­da­tion for Zhang.

Hav­ing met and in­ter­viewed the fam­ily sev­eral times, I was pleased and re­lieved that jus­tice had been done, even so late in the day.

I will re­mem­ber that mo­ment for­ever.

It will in­form my work as I fol­low China’s at­tempts to build a truly strong le­gal sys­tem that will al­low wrong­ful con­vic­tions to be over­turned with more speed.

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