Chinese man jailed for 22 years until 2020 for “Hooliganism”, a charge that no longer exists; netizens’ comment
Niu Yuqiang (left) with his wife and son at home in Beijing
27 years ago, he, an 18 year old, was given stayed death sentence because he robbed someone of a hat and fought with his friends.
20 years ago, he, suffering from severe illness, was released on medical parole. He got married and gave birth to a son while he was receiving medical treatment in Beijing.
13 years ago, “Hooliganism,” which sent him behind the bars and almost to death, was permanently abolished.
6 years ago, jailers took him away from his home and made him serve his sentence again. Because he didn’t return on time on medical parole, his sentenced is extended until 2020. He has officially become the last “hooligan.”
Niu Yuqiang, born in Beijing in 1965, was brought up in a family where both his parents were workers employed by state enterprises. Since he was very little, he hung around with kids living in the same residential compound. It was these “longtime friends” who completely changed his life.
The verdict in 1984 states that the accusations against him are, first, on a day in May, 1983 (the exact date or time is not available), Niu Yuqiang robbed a passerby of his hat in Beijing with his friends; second, Niu and his friends had a fight with some others. The verdict never indicates as to what kind of injury the fight inflicted on the victims. Nor does it contain any forensic test result.
Based on these, Niu Yuqiang received death sentence with a two-year reprieve. His friends, however, were given capital punishment on additional charges, and were soon executed by shooting.
At the end of 1984, Niu Yuqiang, then still a young man, was sent to Shihezi Prison in Xinjiang, China’s northwesternmost province, and began serving his time.
Niu once described his life behind the bars to his relatives and friends as such, “Outside the high wall, it was ten thousand miles of barren sand; Inside the high wall, there were a bunch of young fools. Besides remorse, there was nothing left in me. The only thing I thought of was to be good and go home earlier.”
Niu Yuqiang toed all kinds of lines in prison and strived for any opportunity to have his sentence mitigated.
In April, 1986, because Niu Yuqiang behaved himself during the reprieve, he was granted life sentence by Senior People’s Court of Xinjiang. In 1990, the sentence was again changed to 18 years’ imprisonment.
Having lived in the Gobi desert under arduous conditions for too long and been burdened with heavy drudgery beyond his capacity, Niu Yuqiang developed severe lung disease that finally worsened into pulmonary tuberculosis.
Niu Yuqiang’s medical parole notice (copy)
In October, 1990, the Prison authorities decided to release Niu Yuqiang on medical parole.
On November 1, 1990, Niu Yuqiang returned to Beijing, which he left six years ago, and was hospitalized immediately.
In the summer of 1991, parole officiers from the Prison in Xinjiang came to Niu’s home, and saw him in bed receiving intravenous infusion. After they assessed his physical condition, they granted him extension for another year.
A year passed. Niu Yuqiang, not yet recovered from his illness, waited with his family for parole officers to come to Beijing again. Weirdly, they never did.
Since then, at the beginning of each month, Niu went to the police station in Chaoyang District of Beijing in company with his old father and report his activities. Every time when Beijing held maga-events, or when serious criminal cases occurred, police officers would visit Niu, either for questioning him or exhorting him.
In 1996, a much healthier Niu Yuqiang was introduced to Ms. Zhu, a young girl from Hubei, on a blind date. On meeting her, Niu got everything off his chest, and won Zhu’s sympathy.
As for her first impression of Niu Yuqiang, Zhu said, “As soon as we met, he told me he was once on death row. I felt the person is very honest. I don’t mind what he was, as long as he is ready to start a steady and secure life. After all, those were wrongdoings committed in youthful days.”
In the summer of 1997, Niu Yuqiang and Zhu got married and held a simple ceremony.
Coincidentally, on the day of their wedding, July 1, 1997, the fourth revision of the Penal Code went into effect. The charge that Niu Yuqiang was convicted of, “hooliganism”, was once and for all deleted.
Unfortunately, the newlyweds did not hear the news. Not until Niu Yuqiang was re-incarcerated did Zhu know her husband would have to serve his time for a nonexistent conviction.
Until this year, Niu Yuqiang’s wife Zhu has spent eight years with him.
“He is a straight arrow. He never speaks aloud, or has any conflict with anyone else.” In her eyes, Her husband Niu Yuqiang is by no means a heinous convicted felon. He encountered the ill fate simply because of being naïve when he was young.
Niu Yuqiang has never looked for a job. Part of the reason is his poor health that does not permit manual labor. Moreover, according to the regulations, convicts released on medical parole shall not engage in activities unrelated to treatment.
The entire family rely on Zhu’s meager income. They eke out a poor existence.
“But we have had a very happy marriage. We never even quarrel,” Zhu said, “He often told me that he escaped hell by a narrow shave, that he knows preciousness of freedom and how important the family is to him. So he lives each day as if it were the last day.”
Almost everyone will use the word “straight arrow” to describe him.
Some people said, “He seldom steps out of his door or into others’. He goes to bed early and rises late. He respects the elderly. He seems to have nothing to do with nothing.” Even the head of the public security in his neighborhood, when asked about Niu Yuqiang, thought deeply for long before he finally uttered four words, “(He) abides by the law…”
However, when the family of three were living their simple and happy life, something unexpected finally happened.
One day in the summer of 2004, two police officers from Xinjiang came to Niu Yuqiang’s home, telling him that the prison had sent many a letter to him and to the Beijing police ordering him to return to prison, and even listed him as wanted twice on the Internet. His noncompliance had led him to be listed as fugitives. As a result, they came specially to arrest him.
Niu Yuqiang and his wife were dumbfounded. Obviously he stayed at home, and reported to the police station on a monthly basis. How come he is a fugitive now?
After hearing about Niu’s life at home, the prison police relented, and comforted Niu that as long as he returned to prison to serve the remainder of his time, it is fine. According to the revised verdict, the remainder of his sentence would end in April, 2008. If he behaved himself, his penalty would even be reduced, and he could come home early. Anyways, he would be watching the Beijing Olympics outside.
Seeing her husband rummaging for necessities and packing up, Zhu sat down on the ground and burst into tears. Her husband knelt down in front of her, in tears, told her, “Take good care of my aging mother; take good care of the kid.”
The 6-year-old son did not even know the sea change about to befall the family.
Although some relatives and friends urged Niu Yuqiang to flee the same night, but Niu did not listen.
The next morning, after kissing his wife and kid goodbye, he was handcuffed and taken back to prison.
Until the day he was re-incarcerated, he had stayed outside the prison walls for 14 years time since he was released in 1990.
Zhu had a faith in her mind that she will start a carefree happy life again once her husband is back.
At the end of 2004, while Zhu was looking forward to her husband’s return, a mail from Shihezi Prison in Xinjiang arrived. It says that owing to Niu Yuqiang’s failure to return, his sentence would be extended to April 28, 2020. In that case, Niu would be the last Chinese “hooligan” convict serving his time in jail.
It was a thunderbolt to Zhu, who had been full of hope. From that moment on, Zhu began running about for her husband.
In Zhu’s eyes, her husband has been rehabilitated and transformed to a reliable husband, a loving father and a dutiful son.
More important, during the 14 years, he was law-abiding. He had not even said a hateful word. He was a qualified citizen.
Zhu said, “My husband has become a good man. I hope the relevant department can give him a second chance!”
In response, the prison explained in writing to Zhu, “He did not take proactive steps to return when the medical parole was over; for a long time, he did not stay in contact with the prison while at large.”
Oddly, the reporter obtained an appraisal of Niu Yuqiang from the local police station. It says, “Niu Yuqiang, from his release on medical parole in 1990 to April 30, 2004 when he was re-imprisoned, had always been living in this jurisdiction. He had been subject to police management, had performed well and had committed no criminal offense. ”
It is a strong disproof of what the Prison called “unauthorized departure from residency.”
“My husband has been staying at home for 14 years without going anywhere,” Zhu believes that all of the years should be counted toward time served.
In the mean time, another debate is going on among legal experts: Should Niu Yuqiang continue to serve the sentence for a provision of the criminal law that was repealed?
Zhu turned to the police station, the Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and even Bureau of Prisons at the Justice Department for help. She had been to every government body that she thought could hear her husband’s case.
Wherever she went, Zhu would read once more her petition on a small piece of paper before entering, for fear that the slightest error would affect her husband’s sentence.
Zhu said the Prison never sent down anyone or contact her husband by any method. Her husband was almost forgotten by the Prison.
“Now they say my husband did not take proactive steps to return, and hunt him down on the Internet. I think the prison passed the buck to my husband,” Zhu said, “Why Niu Yuqiang has to bear all the responsibilities?
“Such convenient and arbitrary handling of the matter, I refuse to accept!” Zhu said.
Selected Comments from Chinese netizens on netease :
The entire life is ruined this way. Life is so cheap.
It boils down to bad luck: being born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The jury system would not enable a case like this. USA XXXXX! (Jing: it means ellipsis)
I really felt funny. Those who kill didn’t get a stayed death sentence. Those who corrupt didn’t get a stayed death sentence. Those who hit and run didn’t get a stayed death sentence. Those who caused demolition death didn’t get a stayed death sentence. Those who claim lives by malfeasance didn’t get a stayed death sentence. But only stealing a hat translates to stayed death sentence. Fellow readers, what can you say?
This was given stayed death sentence? Did it coincide with “Strike-hard” Campaign(Jing notes: occasionally China unleashes a storm of crackdown on all sorts of crimes it considers extremely violent to show the people its determination to ensure a safe society. Sentences passed on during the campaign are usually much tougher than usual as a deterrent.)? A ridiculous time.