China court reopens case of executed teenager

A court in north China Thursday opened a new trial for a teenager executed almost 20 years ago for rape and murder, state-run media said, in a rare re-examination of a possible wrongful conviction.

The 18-year-old, named Hugjiltu and also known as Qoysiletu, was found guilty and put to death in Inner Mongolia in 1996, but doubt was cast on the verdict when another man confessed to the crime in 2005.

Hugjiltu's family has been trying to prove his innocence for nearly a decade, according to reports, and the Higher People's Court in Hohhot officially began a retrial of the case on Thursday, according to Xinhua news agency.

"Any errors in the previous ruling, should there have been any, must be addressed," Xinhua reported the court's president as saying earlier this month.

The retrial comes just weeks after leaders of the ruling Communist Party pledged to strengthen the rule of law "with Chinese characteristics" -- a concept experts caution refers to greater central control over the courts rather than judicial independence.

Chinese authorities regularly launch "strike hard" anti-crime campaigns, during which large numbers of suspects are swiftly tried and harsh sentences meted out.

But critics say there are numerous abuses in China's party-run legal system, including the widespread use of the death penalty and forced confessions.

In Hugjiltu's case, authorities interrogated the teenager for 48 hours, after which he confessed to having raped and choked the woman in the toilet of a textile factory, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported. He was executed 61 days after the woman's death.

Then, in 2005, police apprehended Zhao Zhihong, who confessed to raping and killing 10 women, including the textile factory victim.

Several high-profile wrongful convictions have sparked public outrage in recent years.

Last year, a man who served 17 years in prison for killing his wife was declared innocent by an appeals court in the eastern province of Anhui.

A few months earlier two men who had been sentenced to death and life in prison in 2004 for the alleged rape of a 17-year-old girl were also acquitted.