Feb 09, 2015

Southern Mongolia: Man Convicted for 1996 Murder for which Mongolian was Previously Executed

A Chinese Court in Southern Mongolia has convicted a man, Zhao Zhihong, of the rape and murder of a female factory worker in 1996. However, an ethnic Mongolian, Mr Huugjilt, had already previously been convicted and executed for the same crime. The latter is reported to having confessed to the killings after two days of ‘interrogation’ and was convicted in a hastily convened trial.

Below is an article published by The New York Times:

For a decade, Zhao Zhihong insisted that he had raped and killed a woman in 1996, and that the man who had been executed for the crimes was innocent.

On Monday [9 February 2015] the Chinese state news media reported that a court in Inner Mongolia had found Mr. Zhao guilty of murder and rape and sentenced him to death, potentially concluding one of the highest-profile reversals of a court decision in China in recent years.

The decision by the Intermediate People’s Court in Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, came less than two months after the autonomous region’s highest court posthumously exonerated another man of the crimes.

In April 1996, Huugjilt, who was 18 at the time, called the police to report finding a body at a textile factory. He was arrested, and after two days of interrogation confessed to the killing.

Mr. Huugjilt, who went by one name, was found guilty in a hastily convened trial and was executed by a firing squad in June of that year. The case might then have been largely forgotten had it not been for the arrest in 2005 of Mr. Zhao, who confessed to 10 murders, including that of the woman in the textile factory. However, the authorities chose not to reopen that case, and Mr. Zhao was tried for only the other nine killings.

More recently, however, cases in China in which one defendant was executed for a crime to which another later confessed have drawn national attention to the issue of wrongful convictions. Late last year, Mr. Huugjilt’s case was revisited after several murder convictions were overturned. His parents have featured prominently in the state news media, accepting the court’s apology and more than 2 million renminbi, or about $325,000, in compensation for the wrongful execution of their son.

In January, the Hohhot court held a new trial for Mr. Zhao, this time on charges for all 10 murders, and on Monday it issued its verdict. The court found him guilty of 10 charges of murder and of 13 other charges, including rape, robbery and theft, and sentenced him to death. He can still appeal the ruling.

Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch, said the Hohhot court’s decision to revisit the case was an attempt by the Chinese government to overcome “the public’s lack of trust in the judicial system.” She predicted, however, that it would not be enough.

“In the absence of monitoring by external parties,” she said, “when outspoken media, lawyers and activists are under attack by the government’s ongoing crackdown, these measures are likely to have only limited impact.”