Innocent man released in China after record 9,778 days in prison

A Chinese man who spent almost 27 years in prison has had his conviction overturned, making it reportedly the longest wrongful imprisonment in China’s history.
A court in the southwestern province of Jiangxi ruled on Tuesday there was insufficient evidence behind a 1995 ruling that convicted then 26-year-old Zhang Yuhuan of murdering two boys.
Zhang, a villager from the county of Jinxian in the provincial capital of Nanchang, was detained in October 1993. He was handed a suspended death sentence in January 1995 by the Nanchang Intermediate People’s Court, which was commuted to life imprisonment after two years.
In August 2017, Zhang formally applied to the Jiangxi Higher People’s Court for a retrial, which was granted in March 2019 and adjudicated last month.
“After the verdict, a representative of the Jiangxi Higher People’s Court apologised to Zhang Yuhuan on behalf of the court, and informed him he has the right to apply for state compensation,” concluded an official summary of the case published on the court’s website.
The previous record for a wrongful sentence is believed to be held by Liu Zhonglin, who was imprisoned as a 22-year-old and released 25 years later. Liu was subsequently awarded 4.6 million yuan (US$670,000), about 500 yuan for each of the 9,217 days he spent in prison.
The 53-year-old Zhang, who spent 9,778 days in prison, will apply for 7 million yuan of state compensation, according to his lawyer Shang Manqing.
“I was taken as a young man and returned as a geezer, but I still have to thank the government for giving back my innocence,” Zhang told local media on Wednesday.
Zhang’s family life was derailed by the wrongful conviction. He had a wife and two children at the time of his imprisonment. Deprived of income, his wife remarried after six years as a single mother. His children, both toddlers when he last saw them as a free man, are now married. Zhang’s oldest grandson is 12 years old.
“I’ve seen a lot brothers and sisters, a lot of relatives, but I don’t recognise many,” Zhang told Lizhi News, adding that his mother, now 84, was the hardest to recognise.
Zhang claimed he was tortured by public security officials to produce a confession that ultimately contributed to his original conviction. However, the Jiangxi Higher People’s Court told local reporters on Tuesday it rejected the application by Zhang and his lawyer to have such evidence disqualified, citing a lack of evidence behind the claims.
China has one of the highest conviction rates in the world, at 99.9 per cent in 2016. In comparison, the conviction rate in the US federal court system was 93 per cent.
The Supreme People’s Court abolished the use of conviction rates as a performance benchmark in 2014 in the hope that it would lead to fewer miscarriages of justice and reduce the instances of torture and forced confessions.
Zhang’s older brother, Zhang Minqiang, told provincial newspaper Huashang Daily that he wrote more than 1,000 letters of appeal throughout his brother’s imprisonment.
This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (, the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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