n November 30, China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) finally declared Nie Shubin innocent, ending a miscarriage of justice that has persisted for two decades – but too late for Nie himself. Then a 20-year-old worker in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, Nie was sentenced to death in March 1995 for supposedly raping and killing a female worker surnamed Kang in a corn field of a village in the outskirts. He was executed one month after his appeal was rejected by the higher-level court.
The case stayed dormant for 10 years later until a fugitive named Wang Shujin from Nie’s hometown was detained in Henan Province. Wang confessed that he had raped and killed four women in Hebei, including Kang, Nie’s supposed victim.
As the news was widely covered by the media and caused huge public concern, the Hebei Public Security Bureau ordered the local supreme court to retry Wang’s case. But the retrial took seven years, during which time Wang’s lawyer and the prosecutors involved in Nie’s case fiercely argued over whether Wang was the real culprit. At the last trial, held in September 2013, the court declared that Wang was innocent in Nie’s case, but also pointed out that there were defects in the prosecutors’ evidence against Nie.
At the end of 2014, the SPC ordered the local supreme court of Shandong Province to re-try Nie’s case, during which Nie’s lawyers were allowed to check the case files and found that many pieces of evidence, including a coat that the police claimed had been used by Nie to choke Kang to death were highly questionable. The lawyers also found that Nie had not signed his “confession” in person and that the records for the first five days of his interrogation had been “mysteriously” lost.
Based on the principle of reasonable doubt, the SPC finally sent a notice of acquittal to Nie’s parents, causing a stir nationwide. There was a public clamor for somebody to take responsibility; some media reports revealed that an official of Hebei’s local Politics and Law Committee was allegedly involved in obstructing the retrial, and that a local policeman who insisted that Nie’s guilt was doubtful had been dismissed. No official source has yet confirmed such news.
The investigation is continuing. There are public expectations that the reversal of the case, although tragically too late for Nie, will be an opportunity to promote the pledged reform of “rule of law” and strengthen the fight against corrupt law enforcement authorities.