Nie Shubin, who was executed in 1995 for allegedly raping and murdering a Shijiazhuang woman, was declared not guilty by China’s top court on December 2.
The Supreme People’s Court overturned the conviction after legal violations were discovered during Shubin’s trial, including insufficient evidence, lost documents, and an inadmissible confession, Shanghaiist reported.
Key details such as time and cause of death were also not confirmed by the prosecution.
The SPC said the ruling was an “important achievement in improving the judicial system,” adding that Shubin’s innocence proved that “China attaches great importance to human rights,” and serves as “a positive impact on public credibility.”
The court has also apologized to his family, which fought for years to clear Shubin’s name.
Shubin was only 20 years old when he was executed by firing squad in 1995, just days after being convicted.
Another man, Wang Shujin, admitted in 2005 to committing the crimes for which Shubin was found guilty.
But a special investigation into the case by Liu Jinguo, head of the provincial Political and Legal Affairs Committee at the time, was stalled after Liu was promoted to different department.
Shubin’s 73-year-old father, Nie Xuesheng, a Hebei farmer, burst into tears upon hearing the long-awaited news that his son had been declared innocent, saying “My son can finally rest in peace.”
“My husband and I often say to ourselves we have to strive to live until the day my son’s name is cleared,” Shubin’s mother, Zhang Huanzhi, said to reporters.
International human right organizations say China, which reportedly has a conviction rate of 99.92%, executes more people than any other country in the world, but Beijing does not disclose death penalty statistics.
Concerns about wrongful convictions are fueled by police reliance on forced confessions and insufficient effective defense in criminal trials, according to AFP.
The SPC wrote as part of its statement on Shubin’s exoneration that “confessions or forcing [suspects] to confess by torture” is against the law in China.
“Justice delayed is still justice,” Shubin’s father said after a decades-long battle.
But for his mother, it’s a bittersweet triumph.
“I have been expecting today for a long time, but my son won’t come back again,” she said in tears.