Their anger was focused on the authorities’ inability to catch the real culprit and bring him to justice.
A ceremony held by Vietnam’s Supreme Court to issue an official apology to a man who was wrongfully sentenced to death for child rape and murder was disrupted on Tuesday when the victim’s family burst in demanding that authorities find the real killer.
A large crowd gathered at a commune government office in the northern province of Bac Giang on Tuesday afternoon at the ceremony held for Han Duc Long, who was released last December after spending 11 years on death row for murder and rape.
Some members from the family of the five-year-old victim fought with guards and pulled down banners in the hall. A woman was also seen screaming loudly as she held the girl’s photo.
The protest caused a 15-minute delay to the ceremony, which lasted three minutes.
Tran Van Tuan, deputy presiding judge of the Supreme Court in Hanoi, was flanked by police officers as he read out the official apology to clear Long’s name, admitting “mistakes and shortcomings”.
Some people still tried to throw slippers at him.
The protestors said they “won’t accept” any explanation until authorities find the murderer.
Long and his wife attended the ceremony but did not get up on stage.
He was arrested in October 2005, four months after the rape and murder were reported in his village.
Investigators named him the prime suspect after accusations were made by a local woman and her daughter that Long had raped both of them before.
Long confessed that he had raped and killed the child, but later was adamant that his confession was extracted under duress.
During his trial in 2007, he pleaded not guilty. The court ruled otherwise and sentenced him to death. Over the years, he continued to challenge the conviction. Three appeal trials failed to clear his name, but no execution date was set.
His wife also kept fighting for justice. The farmer said her husband was innocent because she was with him at the time of the crime, an alibi that she mentioned again and again in letters sent to various agencies almost every month.
In 2014, the Supreme People’s Court ordered a fresh investigation, but Long remained in prison over the next two years as investigators reopened the case.
Bac Giang prosecutors last December decided all charges against him should be dropped and asked that he be released.
It remains unclear if and how much he will be compensated.
Miscarriages of justice have grabbed headlines in Vietnam in recent years.
The most recent data released by Vietnam’s top legislature, the National Assembly, in mid-2015 showed that at least 71 people were wrongfully charged or convicted in the country from October 2011 to September 2014.
Most of the cases involved murder, robbery and child rape.
Bac Giang itself raised questions about its justice system in late 2013 when Nguyen Thanh Chan, now 56, was released after serving 10 years in prison for wrongful murder charges. His wife’s investigation reportedly forced the real murderer to turn himself in.
Chan also alleged that police officers had threatened to kill him and forced him to plead guilty.