A Chinese man who was wrongfully imprisoned for 26 years for the murder of two children was finally acquitted and released this month. His story of pain and injustice at the hands of the authorities has gone viral on Chinese social media.
“The pain and suffering of 26 years cannot be resolved with an apology … I don’t want the apology. I just hope I’ll have a chance to see those beasts experience being bitten by a pack of wolfdogs,” 53-year-old Zhang Yuhuan, a villager from Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, said after his release on Aug. 4.
Zhang was in his 20s when he was taken away by the police. When he returned home, he found his wife had been forced to remarry, and his mother couldn’t recognize him.
Two Unsolved Murders
On Oct. 24, 1993, two boys aged six and four went missing from Nanchang, the village where Zhang and his family lived. The children’s bodies were found the next morning.
After investigating 61 families in the village, the police identified Zhang as a suspect. The reason was that, when questioned by the police, Zhang appeared “nervous and kept rubbing his hands.” There were also wounds on his hands, and he couldn’t clearly explain where they came from, according to police records. However, his file also indicates that Zhang said that his hands were scratched while harvesting grain.
On Oct. 27 of the same year, Zhang was taken into custody for further investigation.
During the interrogations, Zhang made a total of six statements, two of which were confessions of guilt. But his statements regarding the location of the murders, the means of committing them, and the motive for them varied. But in the end, his two confessions became the main evidence on which police based their conclusion that Zhang was guilty of the murders.
In January 1995, Zhang was sentenced to death with a two-year suspension of the execution by the Nanchang Municipal Intermediate People’s Court.
In March of the same year, the Jiangxi Provincial High People’s Court revoked the lower court’s judgment on grounds that the facts were unclear with insufficient evidence and ordered the lower court to hold a retrial of the case.
In 2001, the Nanchang Municipal Court, in a final judgment, upheld the first death sentence verdict.
Zhang appealed again, but his appeal was rejected by the Jiangxi Provincial High People’s Court, and Zhang was subsequently sent to Nanchang prison to serve his sentence.
For nearly 27 years, Zhang and his family continued to appeal, requesting that the court acquit him. The evidence on which the court had found Zhang guilty was mainly his two confessions. But Zhang claimed that the confessions he made to the police were extracted under torture and threats to his family’s safety.
His eldest brother Zhang Minqiang recalled how he would bring 100 envelopes and 100 stamps every time he visited Zhang in prison so his brother would be able to write letters about his case to different departments. Over the years, Zhang sent out thousands of letters.
Finally, in March 2019, the High Court decided on a retrial, and on Aug. 4 of this year, the court ruled that the evidence was insufficient to find the defendant guilty.
Zhang had been locked up for 9,778 days, the longest reported wrongful imprisonment on record in China.
On Aug. 5, in an interview with state run media CCTV, Zhang spoke about the forced confessions and how he had been tortured by the authorities for six days and nights, including being beaten while being hung up by his wrists, squatting, as well as the use of electric shocks and wolfdog attacks—all to force him to admit to the killings. He said he still has the scars on his hands where he was bitten by the police dog.
Zhang said that up until Nov. 3, 1993, while in custody, he insisted that he was innocent. That’s when the police brought in two wolfdogs, and he was attacked by one of them. His pants were all torn and his legs were bleeding from the bites.
The police gave him another pair of pants and ridiculed him, saying they were better than his old pants.
In the TV interview, Zhang named some of the policemen involved in the interrogations. There were others whose names he didn’t know.
After the judge delivered the Aug. 4 verdict, a representative of the Jiangxi Provincial High People’s Court apologized to Zhang on behalf of the court.
But Zhang was still feeling the pain and suffering from being imprisoned for over 26 years, and wasn’t ready to forgive and forget. “I don’t want the apology,” he said. “I just hope I’ll have a chance to see those beasts experience being bitten by a pack of wolfdogs.”
In a number of other Chinese media interviews, Zhang said he hoped the officials who interrogated and tortured him would be held accountable for their crimes.