A court in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian on Friday overturned a death penalty handed down to a man who spent the last eight years on death row, though he has always maintained he was forced to confess to the murder of two children through torture.
The case against Nian Bin was finally overturned by the Fujian Provincial High People's Court on Friday, which found Nian not guilty of all charges before releasing him unconditionally to his joyful relatives.
"The accused Nian Bin is innocent, and bears no responsibility for costs," the court said in a terse statement.
Nian's brother Nian Xiaobin said the family was overjoyed at the result, which came after eight years of legal battles, including a trip to Hong Kong to find expert witnesses.
"After a long eight years, Nian Bin has finally returned home, having cleared his name," Nian Xiaobin told RFA on Friday.
"We are very happy after having waited so long for justice—such belated justice," he said.
He said Nian's relatives had been warned to remain silent in court while the decision was read out.
"They told us not to say anything after the hearing began, for fear of a slanging match breaking out," Nian Xiaobin said. "[They] were very angry."
A long wait
Meanwhile, Nian's defense lawyer Zhang Yansheng said the decision was the result of "long years of labor" on the part of his family and lawyers.
But she said media reporting of the case had likely played a decisive role.
"Nian Bin is the son of a farmer, and his family has no powerful connections or privilege," Zhang said.
"If the media hadn't brought his case to public attention, it's unlikely we would have arrived at today's result," she told RFA after the decision was announced.
"The role the media played was crucial."
Nian was initially detained by authorities in Fujian's island county of Pingtan on July 27, 2007 in connection with the poisoning of a family in Aoqian village which led to the deaths of two children the previous year.
Police said at the time that they found traces of rat poison on the door handle of Nian's apartment next door to the family's home, and that Nian confessed to the murders.
Nian was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by the Intermediate People's Court in the provincial capital, Fuzhou, in 2008.
He later appealed that sentence, saying he had confessed under torture.
Nian spent a total of eight years on death row, while successive courts dismissed his appeals. He was sentenced to death four times altogether, Zhang said.
'Such cases are common'
Zhang hailed the decision as a landmark for Chinese justice.
"Such cases are really common, so a lot of people feel that this is a landmark," she said. "I think it's a landmark."
"This case will have a huge impact on our justice system."
She said it had taken years to overturn the case, because there was little evidence to point to the actual killer of the children.
"We should learn a lot of lessons from this case, including about judicial independence and about how to end [political] interference," Zhang added.
She laid the blame for interference at the door of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's network of law enforcement committees at every level of government.
"The people who really interfere with cases are the political and legal affairs committees," Zhang told RFA.
Call to abolish
Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said that a number of miscarriages of justice in Fujian remain to be overturned, however.
He cited the cases of Fuqing bombing suspect Wu Changlong, Olympics protester Ji Sizun, and the 2010 jailing of the "Fujian Three" netizens, who questioned an official verdict on the death of a woman believed to have been gang-raped.
"I have a different view on this [from Zhang]," Liu said. "This case went on for years before they finally decided there wasn't enough evidence."
"Justice in a court system should be based on the facts, and cases should be prosecuted according to law," he said.
In an Aug. 22 statement, rights group Amnesty International welcomed Nian's release, calling his case a reminder of the need to end executions in China.
"This rare acquittal is yet another vivid example of why the death penalty should be abolished, and the ever present risk of executing innocent people is just one of many compelling arguments against the death penalty," Amnesty International China Researcher Anu Kultalahti said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.