BEIJING - Forced confessions through torture are not rare in China, state-run media said Tuesday, a rare admission of deep-seated flaws in the justice system after a teenager executed for murder 18 years ago was cleared.
The 18-year-old, named Hugjiltu and also known as Qoysiletu, was convicted 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. Even so, he was only finally exonerated on Monday.
"It has not been rare for higher authorities to exert pressure on local public security departments and judiciary to crack serious murder cases," the government-run China Daily said in an editorial.
"Nor has it been rare for the police to extort confessions through torture... and suspects have been sentenced without solid evidence except for extorted confessions."
Leaders of the ruling Communist party have promised to strengthen the rule of law "with Chinese characteristics", but experts caution the concept refers to greater central control over the courts, rather than judicial independence.
Hugjiltu confessed to having raped and choked a woman in the toilet of a textile factory after 48 hours of interrogation, the China Daily reported in November. He was executed weeks later.
His retrial and acquittal was national news on Monday and one of the most widely discussed topics on social media, with nearly 300 million postings on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging service.
Experts and analysts say the government wants to use the case to send a message to police and courts across China that they must stick to the evidence and not rely on extracted confessions.
"For the building of real rule of law, redressing any misjudged cases, the ones involving wrongfully executed innocent people... is of milestone importance," the editorial said.
The newspaper also said China's supreme court had directed local officials in Shandong to retry the case of Nie Shubin, who was executed for murder in 1995, but later another man confessed to the crime.