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Former prisoner fights for state compensation
By Xing Zhigang (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-06 08:36

For Cheng Mingqing, a 47-year-old farmer in Shangcheng Village in East China's Jiangxi Province, the last six years have been a nightmare that will not go away.

Wu Hesheng, who demanded 2.83 million yuan (US$340,963) in compensation from the Wuhan Intermediate People's Court for an erroneous verdict, is shown at a hearing at the Hubei Provincial Higher People's Court on September 3, 2002. Wu was given a life sentence in 1991 and spent eight years in prison. The Wuhan Intermediate People's Court previously offered to pay Wu 130,000 yuan (US$15,662) in damages, which he declined. [China Daily]

Between 1998 and 1999, he was unlawfully held for 260 days at a local detention center. And during his fight for compensation, Cheng has suffered retaliation from the local procuratorate and court, according to a report by Shanghai-based Xinmin Weekly.

In early August 2002, Cheng was convicted of a crime that he had been found not guilty of five years earlier, and was sentenced to one year in prison, suspended for two years.

His final appeal against the ruling is yet to be heard by a higher court.

Cheng's painful story starts with a dispute.

On July 7, 1998, his younger brother, Cheng Mingshu, and cousin, Cheng Mingchun, got into a fight with each other over money.

The conflict involved other family members and various items that were on hand such as hoes, shovels and tongs, which immediately became weapons.

Upon hearing his brother's call for help, Cheng Mingqing, who was chatting with fellow villagers nearby, rushed to the scene.

On the way, he grabbed an iron bar, thinking of his own protection.

Unfortunately, the bar became evidence that later dragged him into the long-running lawsuit.

Although his iron bar was taken from him by others as he arrived at the scene, Cheng started grappling with Zou Xuezhi, Cheng Mingchun's wife.

The family fray ended with several people, including Cheng Mingqing, being injured or hospitalized.

Everything seemed to have gone back to normal when Cheng was released from hospital a week later.

But about a month after the fight, on August 14, he was put into criminal detention by Jiedu Police Station of the Leping Public Security Bureau for intentional injury.

Cheng did not know that Zou had reported him to the local police. A legal medical appraisal found that Zou had suffered a light injury.

Cheng initially thought he would soon be freed, once the police completed their investigation.

He was never told why he was being detained week after week and then month after month.

The maximum time for detention of a criminal suspect is 37 days, in line with the Criminal Procedure Law of the People's Republic of China.

A worried Cheng petitioned against the detention every chance he got. And every time his wife, Zhan Meixiang, paid her weekly visit, Cheng would urge her to "hire a lawyer as soon as possible."

The hapless farmer, however, was not going anywhere - he saw 100 others in the detention centre come and go.

Finally, on May 4, 1999, Cheng received a notice from the Leping People's Procuratorate saying that he would be released due to a lack of evidence.

The next day, Cheng left the centre with a pile of petition material and legal books that he had asked his wife to bring him to read during his 260 days of incarceration.

Claim for compensation

Cheng had barely left the detention centre when he decided he would fight to clear his name.

On August 2, he went to the Leping Public Security Bureau to demand an explanation. But police told him it was the local procuratorate which had approved his arrest.

Local procuratorate then said it was the public security bureau's fault, according to Xinmin Weekly.

On October 26, Cheng formally claimed State compensation from the local procuratorate. But his application was initially rejected by the Leping People's Procuratorate and then by the higher-level Jingdezhen People's Procuratorate.

He then turned to the Jingdezhen Intermediate People's Court and continually put forward his application. On March 12, 2001, the court finally accepted Cheng's application.

Cheng thought the progress would lead to a successful outcome but he was wrong.

Three months later, when the Jingdezhen Intermediate People's Court was due to complete Cheng's case, the Leping People's Procuratorate decided to withdraw its original decision not to charge Cheng.

On June 13, 2001, Cheng was informed of the new facts that the procuratorate claimed to have in relation to the family fight. They were demanding a retrial of the case.

The next day, the Jingdezhen Intermediate People's Court turned down Cheng's claim for compensation on the grounds that he was going to be indicted.

The drastic change dashed Cheng's hope for justice and put a question mark over his freedom.

The farmer claimed that local prosecutors and judges told him that he had better give up his claim for compensation.

"Some of them say, 'you will cost us our jobs if you claim State compensation,'" Cheng was quoted by Xinmin Weekly.

"You will be put back into prison if you dare continue with your claim for compensation."

The matter ebbed and flowed until March 29, 2002, when the Leping People's Procuratorate successfully prosecuted Cheng for two counts of intentional injury.

The prosecutors provided the same indictment that they had used five years earlier, only changing their conclusion, according to Xinmin Weekly.

The conclusion stated that the procuratorate had fully proven Cheng's illegal actions.

Cheng claimed that the prosecutors and judges themselves knew that they were breaking the law.

The Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China states that a person cannot be indicted again if the procuratorate has earlier withdraw its indictment and failed to find new evidence.

On August 1, 2002, the Leping People's Court sentenced Cheng to one year in prison, which was suspended for two years, and ordered him to pay Zou damages of 466.61 yuan (US$56.40).

The verdict for damages was based on a medical consultation conducted by the Leping People's Court five years after the fight between Cheng and Zou. It said Zou had suffered light injuries.

Wang Lifu, Cheng's lawyer, claimed that the new medical evidence contradicted Zou's original medical consultation, when she was hospitalized in 1998. The original appraisal described lighter injuries compared with the secondary assessment.

After Cheng appealed against the ruling, the Jingdezhen Intermediate People's Court ordered the Leping People's Court to retry the case on the grounds that the trial was against the normal legal procedure.

But the people's court made the same ruling on June 19 last year and the Jingdezhen intermediate court rejected Cheng's appeal three months later.

In October, Cheng again applied to the Jingdezhen Intermediate People's Court for judicial supervision to retry his case.

In China, the higher-level court has the right to review the trial of a subordinate court upon the application of litigants.

The court, however, is yet to fix a date for the retrial and Cheng's fate is still up in the air.

He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University's Law School, describes Cheng's story as a typical case of failure of a citizen to get compensated due to systematic obstacles.

"There are just too many such cases like this in the country," he told Xinmin Weekly.

The professor blames the problem on the absence of an independent body to address cases of State compensation.

Letting a group deal with a compensation claim against itself will only end with the buck being passed and more often than not, a miscarriage of justice.

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