Zhang Dongshen, a suspect murder was released with a "not guilty" verdict in September, 2003 after over three years' illegal extended detention in a lockup within a distance of only 40 kilometers from his own home in north China's Hebei Province.
Zhang was set free at the time which coincided with a sweeping drive launched by China's judicial system to put an end to the illegal extended custody.
According to a work report submitted by the Supreme People's Court to the ongoing Second Session of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC), Chinese courts concluded 4,100 cases of illegal extended detentions, involving 7,658 victims in 2003.
"Though 4,100 unlawfully extended detention cases are limited in number as compared with more than 700,000 cases handled by Chinese courts last year, it meant too much for each individual litigant," said Li Guoguang, member of the Legal Committee under the NPC's Standing Committee and former vice-president of the Supreme People's Court.
It occurred sometimes that crime suspects and defendants can beheld at houses of detention until courts passed final verdicts. This meant the police, public prosecutors and judges could all hold suspects in custody for a period much longer than allowed.
The permissible period for criminal suspects to be held in detention ranges from 14 days to six-and-a-half-months from the arrest to the trial, according to the Chinese Criminal Procedural Law.
The unlawful prolonged detention, however, cannot be tolerated in a society with the rule of law, Li acknowledged. The practice has existed in China for a long period of time.
An Internet survey launched during the 10-day full NPC session shows that 37.1 percent of the surveyed netizens held that the main reason resultant in such detention was the inadequate awareness of law enforcement among judicial workers. About 17.9 percent of the surveyed blamed the illegal extended detention for insufficient supervision on law enforcement.
Zhang Qimei, a NPC deputy and president of the higher people's court of east China's Zhejiang province, said that people paid close attention to the justice of law under the present judicial system to the neglect of justice itself, which should be pursued during the law enforcement procedures. That's why the illegal extended detentions often occur.
Since last year, Chinese courts, procurators and public security departments have intensified their efforts to halt the long-existing extended detentions. They specified that any judicial workers who, with abuse of their power, caused a criminal suspect’s detention to be extended illegally, have to be subjected to disciplinary or criminal accountability.
"If enough evidence cannot be sorted out and pooled within the legal time limit, law enforcement officers have to set free the crime suspects within the prescribed time limit, NPC deputy Qu Sufen from Taizhou city in Zhejiang province said, and "the human right protection for criminal suspects should be enhanced in the judicial system. And in a bid to do away with unlawful extended detention, a long-term supervision mechanism on law enforcement personnel must be introduced.
As a matter of fact, efforts have been begun last year to set up a long-term supervision system pertaining to law enforcement personnel. The Supreme People's Court, the Supreme people's Procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security all worked on rules and regulations jointly to curb unlawful extended custody, such as interrogation must be imposed by law enforcement departments within 24 hours of arrest and the suspects, his relatives or work units be informed of the cause of detention and the whole detention duration and, provided the custody is extended unlawfully, their relatives could raise lawsuits to courts.
So the "overdue justice" is not the real justice, Li Guoguang said. With the constant improvement of China's judicial system, the legitimate rights of all innocent people can be assured.
(Xinhua News Agency March 13, 2004)