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Acquittals in China fall, top court says

Figures released by China's Supreme People's Court show a drop in the number of defendants found innocent in 2014 compared to the year before. A judge has called for lessons to be learned from miscarriages of justice.

China's courts had a conviction rate of 99.93 percent in 2014, with just 778 criminal defendants being declared innocent from more than a million accused, a report released by the Supreme People's Court showed on Thursday.

In his report to the annual session of the National People's Congress, chief justice Zhou Qiang said 1,317 cases had been revised, with "a number" of wrongful sentences corrected.

One case saw a teenager from the Inner Mongolia region exonerated 18 years after he was executed for the murder and rape of a woman.

"With regard to miscarriages of justice, we deeply reprove ourselves and demand that courts at all levels draw profound lessons and further strengthen the effective prevention of unjust and false cases," Zhou said, adding that courts must "leave no hiding places for judicial corruption."

Zhou's report for 2013 showed 825 acquittals and 1.158 million convictions.

'Forced confessions'

Rights groups have said that regular miscarriages in China's justice system come about because force is often used to extract confessions and the accused frequently do not receive an adequate defense.

The People's Supreme Court has repeatedly promised

legal reforms

to prevent judicial abuses amid mounting public anger over court errors. However, experts have argued that such reforms are made difficult by the fact that courts are politically controlled by the ruling Communist Party.

The Party has pledged to ensure the "rule of law with Chinese characteristics."

'Terrorism' crackdown

Thursday's report also noted a rise of 13.3 percent over 2013 in the number of people sentenced last year for crimes such as inciting secession and terrorist attacks.

"(We will) actively participate in the fight against terrorism and separatism and firmly punish violent terrorist crimes according to the law," it said.

Ilham Tohti

Tohti's supporters say he has been jailed for peaceful dissent

China is currently drafting its first-ever anti-terrorism law, which rights groups have warned may give the Communist Party even more powers to put peaceful dissent or criticism of government policies in the category of terrorist activities.

Several high-profile cases of people jailed for "separatist" activities have drawn international attention in recent times, including that of prominent Uighur scholar

Ilham Tohti,

who was sentenced to life in prison in September amid widespread condemnation from rights groups around the world.

tj/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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