Don’t get accused of a crime in China

Today, Joseph Kahn offers a lengthy and harrowing description of China’s badly broken legal system. It’s not always easy reading.

For three days and three nights, the police wrenched Qin Yanhong’s arms high above his back, jammed his knees into a sharp metal frame, and kicked his gut whenever he fell asleep. The pain was so intense that he watched sweat pour off his face and form puddles on the floor.

On the fourth day, he broke down. “What color were her pants?” they demanded. “Black,” he gasped, and felt a whack on the back of his head. “Red,” he cried, and got another punch. “Blue,” he ventured. The beating stopped.

This is how Mr. Qin, a 35-year-old steel mill worker in Henan Province in central China, recalled groping in the darkness of a interrogation room to deduce the “correct” details of a rape and murder, end his torture and give the police the confession they required to close a nettlesome case.

On the strength of his coerced confession alone, prosecutors indicted Mr. Qin. A panel of judges then convicted him and sentenced him to death. He is alive today only because of a rare twist of fate that proved his innocence and forced the authorities to let him go, though not before a final push to have him executed anyway.

Justice in China is swift but not sure. Criminal investigations nearly always end in guilty pleas. Prosecutors almost never lose cases brought to trial. But recent disclosures of wrongful convictions like Mr. Qin’s have exposed deep flaws in a judicial system that often answers more to political leaders than the law.

This is a massive article that should be cut and pasted and stored by anyone curious about the progress of rule of law in China. As Kahn makes clear, the only thing that makes such an aberrant and dysfunctional system possible is China’s one-party dictatorship, which guarantees the odds are stacked against anyone targeted by the government.

There are a few (very few) bright spots in this truly terrifying article — some brave journalists are querstioning certain obviously fixed cases — but most of Kahn’s story is as dark as pitch. Don’t miss it. But don’t expect to walk away feeling cheerful.

Update: Multimedia accompaniment to this article here. It really brings the whole story to life.

The Discussion: 6 Comments

Although there are miscarriages of justice in every country, if that happened in Britain the officers would have gone to jail AND their superiors would have been fired. The sickening part is that this detective was promoted, even after he clearly was in error.

China’s justice system clearly needs to be overhauled, but because the State revokes people’s human rights if they do anything politically or socially “dangerous”, it’s not easy to get the Police to be responsible the rest of the time.

China’s legal service will only improve when all citizens are given firm rights, including those who commit political “crimes”.

September 21, 2005 @ 11:26 am | Comment

This attitude in CHina goes much bigger than central rule of law, well some believe anyways that it also applies to foriegn policy, and economic matters as well, of the latter there is no question, of the former, we will find out within a few years.

September 21, 2005 @ 11:44 am | Comment

This story once again illustrates how essential a watchdog press is – the only reason this man’s wrongful conviction ever came to light was that a Beijing legal journalist overheard officials joking about the case.

September 21, 2005 @ 12:18 pm | Comment

I particularly like the part where, after Qin’s innocence was proven and failing to force his execution anyway, the police used his release as an excuse to hold a big celebratory banquet and get drunk at government expense.

If you can’t kill the guy, at least get a free meal out of it.

September 21, 2005 @ 10:03 pm | Comment

thursday links

ESWN makes a good argument in defense of

September 22, 2005 @ 9:19 am | Comment

i’m not surprised by this story one bit. i had a student who’s best friend was in a chinese police academy and was told to join in on forced coercions. with the character flaw known as a conscience, he didn’t join in and was disciplined for it. of course, he didn’t last very long in the academy.

September 22, 2005 @ 10:01 pm | Comment

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