Is 650,000 Yuan Worth 11 Years in Prison?

By Tang Xiangyang and Rose Scobie
Published: 2010-05-13

Though it is unfair to say China is an unjust country, today it remains difficult for some ordinary Chinese citizens to get fair treatment.

After being wrongfully imprisoned for 11 years, Zhao Zuohai, a farmer from Henan's Shangqiu City, has finally been granted justice.

The Higher People's Court of Henan Province announced in a press conference today it had awarded Zhao Zuohai 650,000 yuan as "state compensation". 

Zhao Zuohai was imprisoned in 1999. He was accused of the intentional murder of his neighbor Hao Zhenshang and was given a 2-year suspended death sentence.

Over the years, Zhao Zuohai's sentence was lightened several times due to good behavior. He believed he would not regain freedom until his 70s.

On April 30, 2010, after Zhao Zuohai had been in prison for 11 years, Zhao Zhenshang returned to the village where they had both lived 11 years ago, proving that Zhao Zuohai is not a "killer" but a victim of wrongful imprisonment.

Zhao Zhenshang said in 1998 he had a quarrel with Zhao Zuohai and struck Zhao Zuohai's head. Afraid of having killed him, Zhao Zhenshang chose to flee their hometown. In 1999, a body missing its head and lower legs was found in a well in their village. The policemen thought it was Zhao Zhengshang and arrested Zhao Zuohai for murder.

As for the reason behind his false confession, Zhao Zuohai recalled, "They [the policemen] beat me to death. I had to admit [that I killed Zhao Zhenshang]."

So far, two of the policemen who were responsible for Zhao Zuohai's case have been detained. The third officer who was also responsible has escaped.

Earlier this month, Zhao Zuohai was set free.

Zhao once told media he expected his compensation to be 1.5 million yuan, but he also said he was "satisfied" with the final result.

Zhao Zuohai is not the only one to be wrongfully imprisoned in China in recent years. She Xianglin, a Hubei local, was accused of killing his wife, who had been suffering from a serious mental illness, in 1994 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. After being in prison for 11 years, his wife unexpectedly returned to their hometown. She said she had been roaming and could not remember how to go back home.

On August 31, 2005, She Xianglin was set free and granted "state compensation" of 456, 900 yuan.

Another case concerning eight farmers in Henan Province is another good example of unfair judicial practice in China.

Two years ago, Zhao Youfu and seven other farmers in Qinyang City in Henan Province reported to their local police station that the secretary of their village branch of the CPC had committed financial crimes.

The secretary was not investigated but the eight farmers were were imprisoned for committing the crime of "defamation" and publicly shamed by being shown to the public with their alleged crimes written on plates hung around their necks.

On August 24, this case was exposed by the Beijing News.

In the days following the Beijing News report, Zhou Yongkang, secretary of the Central Political and Law Committee and Xu Guangchun, Secretary of the CPC Henan Provincial Committee, required the local government to re-investigate the case and it was finally thrown out.

The Ministry of Public Security has defined it as a "wrongful case", but the local government has refused to admit their error. Local officials have provided the farmers with "subsidies" instead of granting "state compensation", which would be an acknowledgement of their wrong doing. They have even attempted to offer jobs to the 8 farmers, but have been met with refusal.

"We hope the government can first clear the facts, then we can talk about compensation," Zhao Youfu said.

The government is aware of the lack of trust the people have in China's judiciary and senior Chinese leader Zhou Yongkang recently told a visiting delegation from Slovakia: "As Chinese courts still don't live up to the increasing judicial expectations of the public, we are striving to reinforce personnel, improve the handling of cases and promote the judiciary's credibility," Hopefully their reforms will be successful.

Links and Sources
The Beijing News
Southern Daily
China Court
Global Times