A man in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region who was originally given a death sentence for intentional injury and committing indecent acts with women about 20 years ago, was pronounced not guilty because of insufficient evidence, his lawyer said on Thursday.
Zhou Yuan, from Yining, was detained in 1997 after he was said to have intentionally harmed and committed indecent acts with several females in the area. A year later, he was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve at the city's intermediate people's court. He was 27 at the time.
After two decades of appeals by the man's family, the regional High People's Court on Thursday cleared Zhou because of unclear facts and insufficient evidence, his lawyer Wang Xing said.
He said the family is preparing to apply for compensation. According to Wang, the judgment said the lower court should not have included evidence that was obtained improperly, and that Zhou had "noted several times that he was tortured during interrogations".
"What's more important is that there was no physical evidence on the scene to prove my client committed the offense," he added.
When the case was retried by the region's high people's court in December 2011, Zhou's sentence was reduced to 15 years. Since he had already been in jail for 14 years, he was released about half a year later.
In July 2013, the Supreme People's Court ordered the regional high people's court to hear the case again after reviewing the ruling.
"I came to the prosecutors and courts to correct the mistake, as I've always believed my son was innocent," Beijing News quoted his mother, Li Bizhen, as saying. "Now that my child's convictions have been cleared, I won't appeal again."
Zhou's case is similar to another high-profile wrongful conviction, which was corrected by the top court in Shenyang, Liaoning province, last year.
On Dec 2, Nie Shubin, from Hebei province, was found not guilty of the rape and murder of a woman because of unclear facts and insufficient evidence. Nie was executed in 1995 at the age of 21.
Since late 2012, when China pushed forward judicial reforms in which it highlighted protection of human rights, the top court said, 37 wrongful convictions have been overturned. Chinese courts also acquitted 4,032 defendants, in line with the law between 2013 and September this year.