The article originally appeared on India Today.
Here it is a bit modified.
In China’s Hebei province, a man convicted and executed for rape and murder of a woman in 1995 has been found innocent 21 years after his sentence was upheld.
China’s Supreme People’s Court has found that evidence in the case was never sufficient and gross miscarriage of justice was done in sending the man, Nie Shubin, to the gallows. The verdict by the apex court of China is being seen as historical in China as its state run media is vigorously reporting about it.
IRONICAL OR HISTORICAL?
A man was arrested in 2005 in rape and murder cases of some women and during the interrogation, he revealed that the crime for which Nie Shubin was executed was in fact committed by him. That man was also executed in 2007.
That means Nie Shubin’s innocence was proven way back in 2005 and as China’s apex court decided to review the Nie Shubin’s verdict in the light of the 2005 revelation only, who will account for the unacceptable delay of 11 years since 2005? Nie’s mother Zhang Huanzhi and his family has been campaigning hard since then.
What about closure for the family after it lost its son at the young age of 21? What about that mother who broke in China’s Supreme People’s Court when the verdict was read out?
JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE IN CHINA
Global Times, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) writes, “It is an implementation of rule of law and a demonstration of social progress and judicial justice, showing that China attaches great importance to human rights.”
‘China attaches great importance to human rights’ – but incarcerates the voices of dissent. Its most notable contemporary example is Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Peace Nobel Laureate who is still in jail as he has called for political reforms and an end to single party rule in China.
When we see the world view about independence and transparency of the judicial system in China, this verdict that is being much touted by the Chinese state machinery, looks ironical.
The report on judicial independence in China from the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China says, “China’s judiciary continues to be subject to a variety of internal and external controls that significantly limit its ability to engage in independent decisionmaking.”
Another report in Huffington Post analyzing judicial independence in China says, “In China, law is a mechanism for the exercise and safeguard of the Party’s power and legitimacy.”
China will dismiss them as the US propaganda but what should we say when voices from China’s judiciary oppose any reform measure based on the universal norms of human rights.
According to a report in The Guardian last year “China’s top court urged officials from the ruling Communist party to shun western-style judicial independence and reject “erroneous western thought”. Bizarre!
The Huffington Post report says that former President of the Supreme People’s Court, Xiao Yang, had said in 2007 that “the power of the courts to adjudicate independently doesn’t mean at all independence from the Party (CPC). It is the opposite, the embodiment of a high degree of responsibility vis-à-vis Party undertakings.”
China’s judiciary is not seen as independent and it wants to maintain the status quo it seems. The world view about the China’s judiciary is that it is subservient to the interests of the state and has been heavily compromised.
WHAT ABOUT THEN CASES LIKE NIE SHUBIN?
China, the world’s second largest economy and the most populous nation, is a closed country run by an autocratic party which never shares the information that can show it in some negative light, even if it is the basic need of a just society. It only highlights a matter when it serves its vast propaganda machinery.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has been declared only the third ‘core leader’ Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, has emerged as the strongest political leader in China’s recent history. And he is on an image enhancement exercise with his ruthless anti-corruption purge that many say is targeted at purging voices critical of him. Allowing a judiciary that is independent enough to look pro people may be another extension of his outreach tools.
Much like Jinping’s anti-corruption crusade which has seen many high profile purges well publicized or this case as it also follows up a decision taken by the Communist Party of China during its Fourth Plenary Session in October 2014 to ‘set a new blueprint for rule of law’, as another Global Times report on Nie Shubin’s case says.
Immediately after the October 2014 Plenary, the Chinese Supreme People’s Court took cognizance of Shubin’s case in December 2014 and assigned it to a provincial higher court, started its own retrial in June 2016 and came up with the verdict by December 2016.
Chinese courts boast a conviction rate of almost 100% and though China refuses to provide data, it is believed that its judicial system executes maximum number of people in the world. Corruption runs deep in China and then there is also the pressure from authorities to provide impressive data that looks clean on paper – a practice that results in forced confessions, almost non-existent defence in criminal trials and unjust verdicts like this in China’s criminal justice system.
In jurisprudence, it said that no innocent should ever suffer even if 10 guilty persons walk away. It will be interesting to know how the Chinese judicial system interprets this.