China acquits four after over two decades in jail

2016-02-04 20:35
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Beijing - Four men jailed in China more than two decades ago for murder were acquitted on Thursday, state media reported, the latest in a series of wrongful convictions overturned in the country.

The sentences were reversed by a provincial high court in southern Fujian province, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The men were convicted in relation to the 1994 murder of a 66-year-old man. Five years later, they were given a suspended death sentence, it said.

Xu Jinlong, Zhang Meilai, Xu Yusen and Cai Jinsen appealed their verdicts and were granted a retrial in 2014, according to the report.

The court, it said, invalidated the sentences after it "found some witness testimony contradictory and possible forgery of the finger prints of a key witness" and the men were freed after 22 years.

The case is the latest to highlight miscarriages of justice in China, where forced confessions are widespread and more than 99% of criminal defendants are found guilty.

China's courts are tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party, which has vowed to overturn mistaken verdicts in the face of widespread public anger.

On Monday, the high court in eastern Zheijiang ordered the release of another man, Chen Man, who had been jailed for over two decades on murder charges.

Of those exonerated in recent years, Chen had spent the longest time in prison, 23 years, state media said. For others, the new verdicts have come too late.

A court in the Inner Mongolia region in 2014 cleared a man named Hugjiltu, who was convicted, sentenced and executed for rape and murder in 1996 at the age of 18.

The declaration of innocence came nine years after another man confessed to the crime.

Twenty-seven officials in China have been "penalised" for his wrongful execution, state news agency Xinhua reported late on Sunday.

But only one person will face criminal prosecution, it added, with 26 others facing lighter "administrative penalties".

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