Nie Shubin, then 20 years old. Photo: Sina Weibo
Nie Shubin, then 20 years old. Photo: Sina Weibo

More than two decades after Nie Shubin was executed for rape and murder, China’s Supreme Court overturned his conviction on Friday, putting the spotlight on the country’s criminal justice system.

The top court overturned the conviction 21 years after Nie, a then 20-year-old worker from China’s Hebei province, was executed in 1995 for raping and killing a woman in a corn field, reported Xinhua News Agency on Friday morning (in Chinese).

“The Supreme Court overturned the original verdict, and ruled that Nie Shubin was innocent,” said the Xinhua report.

The Supreme Court had ordered a retrial earlier in June this year, more than 10 years after another man Wang Shujin confessed to the crime in 2005. Nie’s case has been synonymously linked in the media with the problem of wrongful convictions in China, with even the People’s Daily commentary in 2011 carrying the headline: Why is it so difficult to investigate Nie Shubin’s case (in Chinese).

The court ruled that there was insufficient “objective evidence” to connect Nie to the crime. It found that the time when Nie committed the crime could not be ascertained, nor could the weapon used or the time and cause of death of the victim. It also said the confession that Nie gave was “legally and factually suspect.” Nie was detained for seven months by local police and executed without his parents’ knowledge.

The case has been a hotbed of discussion China, casting a spotlight on the criminal justice system and on the death penalty. China is the world’s top executioner, with more than 1,000 executions in 2015, according to Amnesty International.

Late last year, in a case similar to Nie, the Supreme Court reversed the conviction of an ethnic Mongolian man who was executed close to two decades earlier for a crime he did not commit.

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