Attempt to change China's justice system
02:53 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

China executed Nie Shubin in 1995 for a crime another man later confessed to

Nie's mother has fought for years to clear her son's name

Beijing CNN  — 

More than two decades after a young Chinese man’s execution, the country’s supreme court on Wednesday informed his mother of a new trial, shining a spotlight on an old murder case viewed by many as a symbol of the fatal flaws in China’s criminal justice system.

Calling the evidence for the conviction and sentencing in 1995 of 20-year-old Nie Shubin “unreliable and incomplete,” the Supreme People’s Court ordered the case to be retried “openly and fairly” - but did not give a trial date.

The court statement alluded to the biggest twist in the case: Another man later confessed to the crimes – raping and killing a woman – that Nie was executed for.

“Major questions exist in terms of when and how the defendant allegedly committed the crimes as well as how the victim died,” it said. “The possibility that another person may have committed the crimes cannot be ruled out.”

China remains the world’s top executioner

A mother’s fight for her son

“I’m very excited about the development,” Zhang Huanzhi, Nie’s 72-year-old mother, told CNN by phone Thursday. “I’ll visit his grave soon to tell him that Mom’s efforts all these years weren’t in vain – and justice will prevail in your case.”

When CNN last met Zhang in her small village in 2011, the farmer from Hebei Province was still fighting in earnest to exonerate her son, making countless journeys to the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang – some 320 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of Beijing.

“I bike to the closest bus stop and then take a two-hour ride to the provincial high court,” said Zhang back then. “As long as I can still move, I’m not giving up.”