This is quite a story, and I say that having spent more than ten years reading about these kinds of incidents. The basic facts are that the documentation used to justify the arrest of a group of people in Hebei Province were forged. This might remind you of the post I wrote a while back on the forged court verdicts.
In many ways, this case is much more egregious and therefore has even more potential to further erode the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system and therefore the rule of law in China.
Here is how the incident unfolded. I’ll just excerpt the China Daily report on the story, since it is the most comprehensive of the news reports I found.
Song Shuchun and five fellow villagers from Lingshou county were taken away by police officers in May 2009 for being involved in a land dispute.
They were detained for criminal charges, though the police did not acquire sufficient evidence, the report said.
Song was alleged to have intentionally injured a man in the dispute, while five others were alleged to have damaged property belonging to the victim.
While two of them were bailed out the following day, four others, including Song, were sent to a detention center in Shijiazhuang, provincial capital of Hebei.
However, the detention center refused to receive them because of their ill health.
Let’s stop right there for a moment. None of the reports I have read go into further details about the “ill health” of the prisoners. It’s possible they were suffering from illnesses unrelated to their detention. But it would be quite a coincidence if more than one individual in the group was is such bad health that they could not be held by the police. If I could ask one question about this issue, it would be: “Were they ill before being taken into custody?”
Since Shijiazhuang refused to take them, they were held locally, in poor conditions. At this point, outcomes seem to have depended on money paid to the authorities:
Police officers then implied that their families pay 5,000 to 20,000 yuan ($732 to $2,929) to bail them out, or else they would face prison sentences.
Excluding Song, the other three villagers were bailed out after each of them paid 5,000 yuan. Song, who insisted on his innocence and refused to pay bail, was detained for five months.
Under the charge of intentional injury, he was sentenced in October 2009 to one year in prison with two years’ reprieve and a fine of 15,000 yuan.
The villagers who paid to be bailed have not been placed on trial, nor has any of the bail money been returned to them.
So eventually everyone paid money and was released except for Song. None of the bail money was ever returned, even though these people were not convicted of a crime. This is apparently common practice in some parts of the country.
This is all bad enough, but there are two additional issues here that stand out. First, the warrants used to arrest Song and the other four individuals were forgeries, and second, the underlying issue that led to all of this was a disputed land transfer by the local authorities. Since this post is already getting a bit long, I will cover the forgery and land issues in separate posts.