SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng
China legal reforms are attempting but so far failing to eliminate coerced confessions that police and prosecutors often rely on to ensure swift convictions. Here is a story that illustrates the problem:
On Monday, April 1, 2020, a Henan man wrongfully convicted of murder after a forced confession regained his freedom, after 16 years in prison.
On November 14, 2004, Wú Chūnhóng 吴春红, a resident of Zhougang Village in Henan Province, clashed with his neighbor Wáng Zhànshèng 王战胜 over an electricity bill. The following morning, Wang’s two sons exhibited signs of having ingested poison. Wang’s three-year-old son died later that day. An autopsy performed by the local police department found 30 grams of an unspecified substance in Wang’s son’s stomach.
Within a week, Wu Chunhong was fingered as a potential suspect. He was taken into police custody on November 20. The police soon asserted that the unspecified substance in the boy’s stomach was miànzhà 面炸, a Henanese snack, and that it had been infused with tetramine, which is commonly used in China as rat poison, although it is banned there and in the rest of the world because it is also highly toxic to humans.
The local court convicted Wu of premeditated murder and sentenced him to death with a two-year reprieve on June 23, 2005. If you read the court transcript, the case seems clear.
The only problem is that Wu’s conviction was entirely based on his confession, which was elicited after undergoing physical and psychological torture.