Reporter helps win justice for dead man

Reporter helps win justice for dead man
The court's deputy president meets with Hugjiltu's parents (R) to apologize and offer compensation in Hohhot, northern China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region on December 15, 2014.

Few things are as important to journalist Tang Ji as the pursuit of justice.

Even after nine years of tireless and largely unappreciated work to clear the name of a man who was wrongfully executed, Tang's enthusiasm for exposing the truth remains undiminished.

The 58-year-old, who works for Xinhua News Agency, became a household name across the country for his contribution toward obtaining a retrial of the Hugjiltu case. Hugjiltu, from the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, was sentenced to death for a rape and murder in Hohhot, the capital, in 1996.

The 18-year-old was executed 62 days after being charged, despite doubts about the evidence against him.

Nine years after the execution, Zhao Zhihong, who had been arrested on suspicion of carrying out a series of rapes and killings, confessed to the murder.

Tang then began investigating the Hugjiltu case, and wrote five special reports for the country's top leadership despite facing many obstacles and threats from judicial departments and the courts.

A week ago, the conviction of Hugjiltu was overturned and the victim's family was awarded State compensation of 2.05 million yuan ($335,000).

"The Hugjiltu case is the most important one of my entire career," said Tang. "Many people asked how I had the will to call for a retrial for nine years, and I would say it was my conscientiousness as a journalist and sympathy for the family that kept me going."

The finding that an executed man was innocent is the first of its kind since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949.

The hard-won correction of the verdict is regarded as a historic event in China's judicial development. Tang said the case shows the determination of the leadership to promote the rule of law.

He admitted that the difficulties he faced during the lengthy retrial process exceeded his expectations.

"When I handed in the first report to the central leadership in November 2005 through Xinhua News Agency's special circulation of news reports on sensitive issues, which was read by the top Chinese leadership, I thought justice would come soon," he said.

However, the complexity of the evidence and the reluctance of the judicial authority in the region to admit it had done anything wrong meant that years passed without the case returning to court.

"I continued my work also because other people who believed in justice encouraged me," Tang said.

Shang Aiyun, Hugjiltu's mother, said: "I could see a sense of justice in Tang when I first met him. His words brought me a feeling of warmth.

"Tang has done tremendous work for my family, but he refused to accept a dinner or even a cup of tea from us. He said it is his duty."

Tang has reported on political and legal affairs for more than 30 years, and the Hugjiltu case is just one of the numerous stories he has covered.

He is due to retire in two years, but he said that until then he will continue to pursue truth and justice for ordinary people.

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