Chinese Court Publicly Apologizes for Wrongful Convictions

FILE - Police officers stand guard at the Hefei City Intermediate People's Court.

A Chinese court publicly apologized to 19 people it wrongfully convicted of financial crimes in a rare show of contrition by the country's authoritarian and highly opaque legal system.

The apology from the People's High Court for the eastern province of Anhui appeared in a local newspaper on Monday. The court said it wished to help restore the reputations of the individuals, all of whom were imprisoned in 2012 on charges of illegal fundraising, or fraud.

The 19 people were accused in a single case involving China's so-called grey economy, which loans money to business ventures too small to obtain loans from large state banks. The court said a review of the case revealed the convictions were wrongful, but it didn't explain why.

The convictions of the 19 defendants were overturned as well as the original indictments against them.

Chinese courts are controlled by the ruling Communist Party, and trials almost always result in convictions. Wrongful convictions, including those resulting in the death penalty, are not unusual because of political considerations, reliance on confessions rather than evidence, and pressure to solve homicides and other major cases.

Some cases have been overturned with restitution paid, but courts have hardly ever apologized.

In the Anhui case, the apology should be seen as a sign of progress in how the judicial system deals with its mistakes, said Gu Chengliang, a law professor at Shanghai's Jiaotong University.

“This is a move that deserves positive affirmation. It definitely marks progress in the legal system and is a position that courts should take when there's indeed injustice,” Gu said.