Family of Chinese man cleared of murder exhausted by media glare and accusations

Family of Chinese man cleared of murder exhausted by media glare and accusations

When Zhang Yuhuan was exonerated, Song Xiaonu wanted just one thing from her ex-husband – a big hug.

Then she wanted to return to her quiet life.

Song said she always knew that Zhang was no murderer and should be freed. So his acquittal last Tuesday from the highest court in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi did not come as a surprise. Instead, it was more mission accomplished and time to move on after almost three very long decades.

In October 1993, in a village in Jinxian county, the bodies of two boys, aged six and four, were found in a reservoir.

The police determined that they had been “murdered”. Zhang, a carpenter from the same village, was taken away by the police.

He spent almost 27 years in prison for murders he did not commit but Song never gave up hope of freeing him. Now the miscarriage of justice has thrust the couple into the media spotlight.

The unwanted media attention – and lightning speed of news on the internet – has left them both bewildered and exhausted.

Zhang Baogang, one of the couple’s two sons, said: “My mother doesn’t want her whereabouts known [to everyone]. She does not want to be interviewed. She wants to be an ordinary woman and has no interest in becoming famous as some people have claimed online.”

As soon as Zhang Yuhuan, 53, was freed because of insufficient evidence, people began to speculate wildly online about how much compensation he would receive for his 9,778 days in prison.

They also mocked Song for her show of emotions at her former husband’s release, accusing her of craving the media spotlight. Song and Zhang divorced and she remarried in 1999 – six years after Zhang was arrested.

“Save your tears and stop complaining as you are going to get millions in compensation from the state,” one commenter wrote.

“[Song] just wants to be famous … and she wasn’t even loyal [to Zhang],” another wrote.

But Song told the South China Morning Post that she did not “know anything about compensation, and no one has talked to me about it”.

“Compensation? Who is going to pay us for our lost time? We lost years of our life and suffered because of [this wrongful sentence] so who will pay us back? Zhang Yuhuan was a young fellow when he was sent to jail and he is now an old man. It was heart-wrenching to go through the ordeal,” she said.

Shang Manqing, one of the two lawyers who represented Zhang Yuhuan in his appeal, said she hoped the public would show more compassion for his client and Song.

“This is a family that has suffered a lot in the past 27 years,” Shang said.

“I hope that the public would not only welcome Zhang Yuhuan to rejoin society but also show more compassion for Song and their two sons and their families.”

According to Zhang Baogang, his mother planned to return home to Fujian province in the country’s southeast after spending a few days with Zhang Yuhuan in Jiangxi helping him to adapt to his new life.

“My mother has suffered so much, much more than my brother and me. The suffering people can read about in the media is just the tip of the iceberg. The suffering that she had experienced in the past two decades is not something that can be told in a day,” Zhang Baogang said.

When asked what she wanted most now, Song said: “I still want Zhang Yuhuan to give me a big hug. He only held my hands when I saw him.”

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.

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