Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Price of Innocence

There was a bizarre story a few weeks ago when a man who was supposedly murdered turned up alive in Zhaolou village in Henan Province on April 30. This resulted in the man who was accused of murdering him, Zhao Zuohai, 57, being set free after spending 11 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

In 1997, Zhao was involved in a fight with another villager, Zhao Zhenshang, who later disappeared fearing retaliation. Two years later a headless body was found and was believed to be that of Zhao Zhenshang. Zhao Zuohai was arrested and confessed to the murder.

After he was convicted, Zhao was sentenced to life in prison and then his wife remarried; two of his four children were adopted, and the other two left home to be migrant workers.

However, after he was released, Zhao said the police forced him into giving a "confession", beat him up during interrogations and tortured him in order to stay awake for 30 days.

For the miscarriage of justice, Zhao received 650,000RMB ($95,206) in compensation and an official apology. He also received another 16,000RMB ($2,343) from various legal bodies directly or indirectly involved in the case

Meanwhile two of the police officers who allegedly tortured Zhao have been detained and a third is at large.

And now the chief judge who ruled on the case has been put on leave pending an investigation.

Chief Judge Hu Ye was suspended from duty at the Higher People's Court of Henan Province, and three other judges involved in Zhao's wrongful conviction have also reportedly been suspended from duty at the Intermediate People's Court in Shangqiu City.

But are all this enough justice? Enough for taking away the productive life of a farmer who wasted his life in prison and in the meantime lost his wife and family?

If you calculate 650,000RMB into 11 years, Zhao only gets 162RMB ($23.72) per day.

Surely his life is worth much more than that, considering all the mental anguish he's gone through, losing his wife and family in the process.

Since the government plays an active role in handing down convictions, perhaps it could also think again about how much it owes Zhao for being labeled a murderer when he was in fact, an innocent man.

Who's to blame now?

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