Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A man who has spent the last 10 years in prison on charges of murder, was released because the victim is still alive. Zhao Zuohai - the alleged murderer - had argued with a neighbour, who then vanished. A court sentenced him 18 months later, following the discovery of a headless, decaying corpse and confession extracted by force by the police.
The story dates back to October 1997: Zhao Zuohai and Zhao Zhenshang, residents in Shangqiu – a town in the county of Zhecheng (Henan) - had an argument over money and a woman. The disappearance of Zhao Zhenshang and the discovery of a corpse with a severed head had opened the prison doors for the alleged murderer.
Zhao Zuohai’s brother denounced torture and abuse by police, who forced him to drink chilli-tainted water and set off fireworks above his head in order to make him confess. Experts of Justice in China confirm that in most cases the courts condemn the accused on the basis of confessions extracted under torture. At first Zuohai Zhao received the death sentence, later commuted to 29 years in prison.
On 30 April Zhenshang Zhao, 56, returned to his village of origin. The "victim" confessed to having fled because he hit Zhao Zuohai during the fight and was afraid of having mortally wounded him. The man confirmed his identity before the court and Zhao Zuohai was exonerated of murder. The court has now issued an order for his release, dismissing all charges.
The People’s High Court of Henan has decided to open an investigation on the matter and is holding the judge who issued the first conviction responsible. Court sources ensure that the judge "will be punished." However, during the years in jail Zhao Zuohai’s family life has changed dramatically. His wife has married another man and two of his children were adopted.
The story of Zhao Zuohai is only the latest example of summary justice in China, which alone carries out 90% of capital punishment worldwide. In 2008, according to official estimates, there were 4,000 death sentences and 1,770 executions, some human rights activists instead report that the number is at "least twice” official figures.
Confirmation of these unofficial findings came during the National People's Congress of 2006, when Chen Zhonglin (one of the delegates) said that China puts to death "about 10 thousand people" a year, but added Beijing policy requires that official data on the topic be considered a "state secret".