24 August 2005 :the following is a summarised editorial appearing in the Toronto Globe and Mail. When police executed a man named Nie Shubin in 1995, nobody bothered to tell his parents. His father learned of his son's death a day later, when he tried to bring a package of food and clothes to prison. In his home village, south of Beijing, his neighbours were shocked when the shy 20-year-old man was accused of raping and murdering a woman. They knew him as a polite and gentle youth who stuttered when he spoke. He was so meek that he was unable to kill a rooster when his mother wanted to make chicken soup.
Now, a decade later, police have admitted what everyone always suspected: Nie Shubin was innocent. He was executed for a crime he never committed.
The wrongful execution has provoked a major scandal in the Chinese media, fuelling a growing debate over the death penalty in a country that executes far more people than the rest of the world combined. "Given our national conditions, we cannot abolish the death penalty," Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told reporters in Beijing.Yet a growing number of Chinese scholars are expressing their doubts about the death penalty, and government officials are considering reforms to allow greater judicial review of death-penalty sentences.
The intensifying debate has made Nie Shubin's case a cause calibre across the country. Chinese newspapers and Web sites have been carrying poignant stories about the distraught family of the young man. Some reports said the police extracted a confession from him by beating him repeatedly.
"When we heard the truth about the case of Nie Shubin from the newspapers and the Internet, we all cried," Mayor Nie Zhancai told a local newspaper. "He was such a good boy. Even though he was quiet in public, he was very polite and intelligent."
His parents were devastated when their son was arrested in 1994. They were never officially informed of the charge or the verdict. They did not learn any details of the accusations against their son until they read an article in a local newspaper.
After the execution of his son, Nie Shubin's father quit his job and fell into a deep depression. His health deteriorated and he drank half a bottle of pesticide in an attempt to kill himself. He survived only because his wife found him and took him to hospital.
The injustice was finally exposed this year when a man was arrested in a neighbouring province and confessed to four murders, including the murder that had led to Nie's conviction and execution. When he described the scene of the murder, police went there and found that it exactly matched his description.
The police said he knew details that only the killer could have known.The man who confessed, however, has not been charged with the murder because the file on the case has been officially closed. The police who arrested him are seeking to charge him with the murder, but the police who conducted the original investigation are refusing to reopen the case because it would trigger a bureaucratic uproar and a demand for compensation from the family of the executed man, according to local media reports.
Chinese media commentators say the scandal should accelerate Beijing's plans to allow the Supreme Court to review death-penalty cases. "I predict that this case will arouse a strong reaction from the public," one commentator wrote on the People's Daily Web site. "We hope this case will make the Supreme Court take action soon."