Miscarriage of Justice: Chinese Man Released After 10 Years in Prison

Yang Botao (right) being held by his crying father Yang Weihua after the former was finally released from 10 years of imprisonment due to a miscarriage of justice involving a forced confession under torture.
Father Yang Weihua in tears holding a Yang Botao after leaving the detention facility. Photo: CFP
 Father Yang Weihua in tears holding a Yang Botao after leaving the detention facility. Photo: CFP
Father Yang Weihua in tears holding a Yang Botao after leaving the detention facility. Photo: CFP

From NetEase:

Henan Man Spent 10 Years Wrongly Imprisoned in Miscarriage of Justice, Claims To Have Been Force-Fed Feces and Urine to Extort a Confession

37-year-old Yang Botao is very timid/scared. When the village Party Secretary came to the detention facility to pick him up to go home, he asked to see “official identification”, otherwise, “they’ll say I’m breaking out of prison, and what if they shoot me?” At this moment, he has stayed in there for over 10 years.

He was accused in 2001 of a rape and dismemberment case in Shangqiu district [of Henan]. In the 10-some years since, the Shangqiu Municipal Intermediate Court have handed him two death sentences and one life sentence, the three judgements all reversed by the Henan Provincial High Court and returned for retrial. It was only until August of last year that the Shangqiu Municipal Prosecutor’s Office withdrew the prosecution case on the basis of “unclear facts and insufficient evidence”, which was approved by the Shangqiu Municipal Intermediate Court.

However, Yang Botao was still imprisoned for an additional 6 months. It was only until after the Spring Festival holiday this year and after media reporting that the Shangqiu Municipal Police released him “on bail pending investigation”. Only after police and relatives spent 9 hours persuading him did Yang Botao agree to exit the detention center, stepping back into a society he has been separated from for 10 years.

His identity as a university graduate did not bring him any preferential treatment in those ten years, yet continuously pushed him to do everything he could to attempt to keep up with the times. In order to exercise his right brain [hemisphere], he persisted in using his left hand to write; to develop his memory, he would recite every piece of news after watching Xinwen Lianbo based on the order it was broadcasted. He would use his left hand to write down from memory such news items on old pieces of paper, holding together his beautiful imagination of the world.

Losing his freedom, “I remember that year’s GDP figure”

Yang Botao’s cell can hold 16 to 17 people. Over the past 10 years, these people changed many times, up until Yang Botao became the oldest one. “No one has lived in there longer than me.” He chuckled and then continued, “I’ve even bid farewell to over a dozen inmates sentenced to death, and when the bailiff took them to the execution grounds, not a single one wasn’t scared stupid.”

The detention facility is a place that is unimaginable. When Yang Botao first entered, he had nearly 600 degrees of near-sightedness and no glasses. He was slapped around several times and could never see clearly who did it. Without anyone teaching him, he immediately learned how to surrender/yield and beg forgiveness, which allowed his days to go by slightly better. In recent years, the detention center had become much more humanized/humane, which allowed him to begin saving strength for returning to the outside world.

After 10 years of excessive detention, Yang Botao's hair has already started becoming thin and there are already white hairs, while his glasses also have a broken temple.
After 10 years of excessive detention, Yang Botao’s hair has already started becoming thin and there are already white hairs, while his glasses also have a broken temple.

“I believed I could be released,” Yang Botao said, “whether or not the person was killed by me is something I know most clearly.” According to the contents of his file, and just as his defense document says, the “rape, murder, and dismemberment” case Yang Botao was a suspect in is a classic “three unknowns” case: The scene of the crime was unknown [unable to be determined], the time of the crime was unknown, and there was no on-the-scene exhibits [evidence]. According to him, his 5 confessions of guilt were all brought about after he was forced to drink hot pepper water and had his testicles pinched/crushed/abused.

In the past 10 years, Yang Botao often thought of his university, the dormitory building he once lived in, the scenic river to the south, and the basketball court to the north. From 1996 to 1998, Yang Botao majored in Economic Management at Zhengzhou University, which changed his life. He had once thought that if he had not gone to university, he would not have gone to do business in electric appliances, nor would he have opened a trading company in downtown Shangqiu, much less encountered the murder case of junior female schoolmate Li X.

At around 5pm on February 12th, Yang Botao was driven out of the Shangqiu detention facility. Then, on an empty plot of land beside the road, he and his family began setting on fire the bedclothes he had brought out with him. “Must burn, because if you don’t burn them, it means you still want to go back inside to sleep.”

“Must burn, because if you don’t burn them, it means you still want to go back inside to sleep.”

After burning his bedclothes and an old sweater, he began taking measure of this city that had just celebrated Spring Festival, and discovered that he no longer recognized it. “Huge changes.” He was informed that his trading company had closed down, that his Changan Star small van had been stolen, and that his fiancee could no longer be reached. He very quickly left Shangqiu, never wanting to ever return.

Yang Botao lost his freedom on 2003 December 17. “The year I went in, China’s GDP had just surpassed 10 trillion (yuan), so could the change not be big [since then]?” Yang Botao said ruefully, in a hotel room in Xiayi county [of Shangqiu city, Henan] on the afternoon of December 19.

He has constantly pushed himself to not be left behind by the times. After he got used to life in the detention center, he used forcefully memorizing every item of news on Xinwen Lianbo to exercise his memory. “Do you know how many items of news there are on Xinwen Lianbo every week?” He laughed, “Normally 20-30 items. I can recite each item based on the order [originally presented].”

About 5 years ago, he saw on an old magazine that using your left hand to write can develop the right side of one’s brain, so he immediately began practicing. Now, his left hand writing is barely different from his right hand writing. “If a person has no money or background [connections], the only thing he can rely on is his brain.”

Petitioning grievance, claims being forcefully fed feces and urine to extort confessions

Other than the great changes to streets and alleys [surroundings], Yang Botao also has to come to terms with the aging of his loved ones, as well as the changes in their personalities. When burning his bedclothes after just leaving the detention center, his father Yang Weihua insisted on snatching away another bag in his son’s hands to burn. When Yang Botao refused, his father immediately became angry. In that bag was stuffed several articles of clothing that were not yet that old, as well as a dense amount of paper and notebooks that Yang Botao had written on over the years.

The paper Yang Botao used to practice his memory and handwriting during his period of detention. Photo by Southern Metropolis Daily reporter Sun Xuyang.
The paper Yang Botao used to practice his memory and handwriting during his period of detention. Photo by Southern Metropolis Daily reporter Sun Xuyang.

Also easy to anger like their father is elder sister Yang Chunxia. Over the past ten years, she has constantly petitioned [authorities] on behalf of her brother, and has been constantly thwarted, her worries and depression entangled with each other fermenting in her heart, her mood constantly on the verge of collapse. Yang Chunxia’s husband Ma Jiangbo says his wife often suddenly leaves behind her two children at home to go to Beijing to petition, unable to stay even a moment, and has been sent back [often forcefully] before.

The lives of Ma Jiangbo and his wife have been kidnapped by [entangled with] the petitioning. A single 80-page A4 paper-sized bound petition has had 300 copies printed out at once by Ma Jiangbo. He has started businesses several times as well as hired several workers, all of which have been hindered by petitioning and thus failed. What Ma Jiangbo cannot accept is not being heavily in debt but how miserable it has been for his two children. Whenever their parents go off to petition, they are left in the care of their friends in Zhengzhou. Finally when their mother returns home, her mood is extremely bad, leading her to sometimes yell and hit them.

Yang Botao’s return has brought a momentary ray of sunshine to the entire family. Yang Weihua has worked as a teacher his entire life and was quite respected throughout his hometown Xiayi county Sangu town, but because of of his son becoming a criminal who had raped, murdered, and disemembered someone, he had for a time been unable to face anyone. “Had Yang Botao really committed murdered, they could execute him and we would not be the least bit sad,” Ma Jiangbo said,” Our lawyer met with him and came out saying it was 100% a case of having falsely confessed under torture. Our entire family immediately decided that even if it cost our lives, we would cry out about the injustice.

But, Yang Botao knew that his father could not shield him for too long. The 64-year-old Yang Weihua has already been definitively diagnosed with late-stage cancer, and what more, because of a blood transfusion due to injuries from a car accident over a dozen years ago, he had contracted an embarrassing-to-reveal incurable disease [possibly HIV]. Relying on a retirement pension of just little more than 1600 yuan a month, just how much longer could he bear?

This increased Yang Botao’s hate for those who interrogated him under torture to force a confession. “Even burning them to death would not be enough to satisfy my anger.” In the Yang Botao’s petitioning materials, he describes the particulars of the interrogation under torture by then Shangqiu city Liangyuan district Public Security Sub-bureau Chief Liu Yuzhou and others: He was not allowed to sleep for over a dozen days and nights, was beaten and kicked, force-fed feces and urine, had his facial, armpit, and pubic hair all plucked out…

He was not allowed to sleep for over a dozen days and nights, was beaten and kicked, force-fed feces and urine, had his facial, armpit, and pubic hair all plucked out…

7 years after Yang Botao was locked away in the detention facility, Liu Yuzhou was sentenced to 17 years in prison for the crimes of accepting bribes and possessing large sums of assets of unclear origin. A Shangqiu Municipal Party Committee Politics and Law Committee member says Liu Yuzhou had previously confessed during investigation to extracting a confession with torture from Yang Botao, but does not know why it was not in the file.

This also makes Yang Botao’s description of his forced confession lack legal recognition. Yang Botao was imprisoned at the end of 2004 May in the Shangqiu city Tianyu Hotel and interrogated. Yang Botao remembers that a female employee of the hotel took pity on him after seeing him naked being interrogated under torture and purchased two underwear briefs for him. “I want to thank her, as well as ask her to testify.” However, after ten years, among the sea of people, where was he to go find her?

Someone he wants to find even more is undoubtedly his fiancee. Over the past 10 years, he was constantly told that his fiance was waiting for him. However, on February 12, in the group of people crying [at his release], he did not see her figure. It was not until lunch on February 19 that he again pressed his older sister for the whereabouts of his fiance.

This time, Yang Chunxia no longer hid the truth from him and told her younger brother that his fiance has already gotten married and had a child. In that instant, Yang Botao’s voice became husky, as if his throat was choking, “How is she doing? Can I see her?”

Yang Chunxia became furious, glared at her younger brother, and lashed out, “She has a family now, don’t you go bothering her!” Other than Yang Chunxia, other family members also opposed Yang Botao’s idea [of seeing her]. This is a family that extremely treasures reputation.

Awaiting his name being cleared, his questions go unanswered

In the 10 days since leaving the detention center, “accompanied” by the village Party Secretary and two police officers, Yang Botao is living in a small hotel in Xiayi county town, his food and living expenses all provided by the “state”. February 19 afternoon, upon learning that a reporter had come by, a deputy chief of the Xiayi county public security bureau rushed over to this hotel, explaining that all of this was ordered from above.

Yang Botao and his family know that the other party are afraid of the Yang family going to Zhengzhou and Beijing to petition. In order to avoid problems, they’ve chosen to cooperate. Piled in the ashtray at the head of Yang Botao’s bed are the cigarette butts left behind every day by him and his “companions/escort”, the air [in the room] unbearably dirty.

Yang Botao very quickly discovered that “the higher authorities want to sweep this under the carpet”, and up till now has not heard anything about what will be arranged for him next.

In reports by the media, he apparently is already innocent. However, in terms of legal procedure, he remains someone who is awaiting sentencing/punishment. Shangqiu city police have only applied for “release on bail pending investigation” for him and has not actually formally released him. This is also on reason why he had refused to leave the detention facility. This case has in 10 years experienced 4 supplementary investigations and 3 retrials. “If they can’t convict me, why not return me my innocence?”

“If they can’t convict me, why not return me my innocence?”

The “Release on Bail Pending Investigation” document Yang Botao received from the Shangqiu Public Security Bureau Forward Division states “This bureau is currently investigating the (this space left blank) case. Criminal suspect Yang Botao may not check out during his legal detention period. [This bureau] needs to continue investigating and hearing, and has decided to release him on bail pending this investigation, with the detention period beginning from 2014 February 11th onward.”

“Are you telling me the past 10 years have just been a legal detention period?” Yang Botao questioned, but no one answered him. According to an individual with the Shangqiu police, in conjunction with Yang Botao’s release on bail pending investigation, the Shangqiu city formed a special investigative team to reinvestigate the rape and murder case he is involved in and provide daily reports.

However, in the eyes of one Henan attorney, whether Yang Botao is the culprit and just who the culprit really is and whether he can be apprehended are two different matters, and that Shangqiu police are clearly evading the core problem. In a situation where someone has been imprisoned for 10 years without conviction and the investigating organ [prosecutor’s office] has withdrawn its prosecution, the Public Security Bureau only releasing him on bail pending investigation is an abuse of police power. What more, release on bail is not allowed for serious violent crime cases like the rape and murder case he is involved in anyway. “This is also the reason why the Public Security Bureau doesn’t dare write the details of the case on the ‘Release on Bail Pending Investigation’ document.”

On the third day after leaving the detention center, Yang Botao arrived at the Xiayi county People’s Hospital to do a physical exam. February 20th, he received the exam results. He has been found to have proctitis and hepatitis C. Over the years, the reason for his excrement always accompanied by pus and blood has now been determined. There are also problems with his prostate, where he often has the urge to urinate but is unable to do so. What his family is worried about is that he may have already lost his ability to reproduce after his lower body [testicles] were abused during his interrogation under torture.

After receiving his exam results, he immediately applied for 30,000 yuan in aid from the Shangqiu Public Security Bureau, in hopes of being hospitalized for treatment. But, as of the night of February 25th, has yet to receive a reply.

Comments from NetEase:

亚之梦的眼泪 [网易北京市手机网友]:

Is there any TM law at all?

1碧云天1 [网易山东省淄博市手机网友]:

4 years in college, 10 years of unjust imprisonment, and he still watches Xinwen Lianbo. Just how stupid is he?

A我来自火星 [网易浙江省温州市网友]:

Those in support of the local Public Security Bureau chief being sacked, please ding this up.

网易陕西省西安市手机网友 ip:36.40.*.*:

In Yang Botao’s mind, just what kind of impression has the local Public Security Bureau [police] given him?

风浩荡 [网易陕西省西安市手机网友]:

Reincarnation is also something that requires skill.

[Note: This is a joke that means the situation one is born into such as family, environment, genes, time period, etc. requires “skill”. For example, being born into an unfavorable situation (such as in China) means one had poor “skill” and being born into a favorable situation (such as in USA) means one had good skill.]


Written by Fauna

Fauna is a mysterious young Shanghainese girl who lives in the only place a Shanghainese person would ever want to live: Shanghai. In mid-2008, she started chinaSMACK to combine her hobby of browsing Chinese internet forums with her goal of improving her English. Through her tireless translation of popular Chinese internet news and phenomenon, her English has apparently gotten dramatically better. At least, reading and writing-wise. Unfortunately, she's still not confident enough to have written this bio, about herself, by herself.


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