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Media's Role in Judicial Reform

The year 2005 saw the media in China frequently reporting on injustice in trials, which a Xinhua News Agency report yesterday said not only demonstrated a more democratic atmosphere, but also pushed forward judicial reform.


She Xianglin, from Hubei Province, is now a household name after extensive reporting on his wrongful 11-year imprisonment for murdering his wife, who was actually still alive, after police tortured a confession from him. He received nearly 500,000 yuan (US$61,880) in compensation, including an amount for the arrest of his mother for trying to help his case – she later died while he was still in prison.


Nie Shubin, a young farmer in Hebei Province, was executed in 1994 after being convicted of raping and murdering a local woman. Earlier this year, however, a rape-and-murder suspect apprehended by police in Henan Province confessed that he was the perpetrator. Xu Jingxiang, imprisoned for 13 years after being wrongly charged of robbery, was also found innocent.


Li Guifang, vice director of the All-China Lawyers Association’s Criminal Committee, told Xinhua that the media's exposure has become important and that "law enforcement organs have become more open to criticism and supervision.”


The year also saw a series of reforms regarding the death penalty. In October, the Supreme People's Court issued the second five-year reform plan for people's courts, which said the power to review death sentences would return to the Supreme People's Court.


China's 1979 edition of the Criminal Procedural Law regulated that all the death sentences with immediate execution must be reviewed by the Supreme People's Court. However, the people's court organizational law, promulgated in 1983, stipulated that some death sentences with immediate execution could be reviewed by provincial higher people's courts.


A Supreme People's Court senior official said judges must take a cautious attitude when giving death sentences, according to Xinhua.


In December, the Supreme People's Court issued a notice requiring local courts to open court sessions when hearing death penalty appeals from next year in a bid to further ensure the justice and openness of trial of such cases.


Chen Ruihua, Peking University law professor, said the frequent occurrence of confession extracted by torture reflected loopholes in the country's judicial system and that law enforcement organs failed to follow the principle of presumption of innocence.


The Article 93 of the Criminal Procedural Law stipulates that criminal suspects should candidly answer questions asked by police, but Xinhua reported that the right to keep silent during interrogation is an important one well respected and protected in many other countries.


Current Criminal Procedural Law also fails to stipulate that a lawyer's presence in interrogation is necessary, and Xinhua said most police refuse criminal suspects’ requests to seek legal advice.


(Xinhua News Agency December 19, 2005)

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