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[BEIJING] The number of criminal defendants acquitted in China fell last year, figures from the country's top court showed Thursday, even as authorities pledged to avoid miscarriages of justice such as a teenager's wrongful execution for murder.
A total of 778 accused were "declared innocent" by Chinese courts in 2014, Zhou Qiang, head of the Supreme People's Court, said in a report to the annual session of the Communist-controlled National People's Congress (NPC) legislature.
In contrast 1.184 million were found guilty, a conviction rate of 99.93 per cent.
The corresponding figures for 2013 were 825 acquittals and 1.158 million convictions, according to Mr Zhou's report last year.
The use of force to extract confessions remains widespread in China and the accused often do not receive an effective defence in criminal trials, leading to regular miscarriages of justice, rights groups say.
Courts are politically controlled, with activists who come to trial virtually certain to be found guilty.
Public anger has mounted over miscarriages of justice, and in a high-profile case, a court in Inner Mongolia region in December cleared Hugjiltu, who was convicted, sentenced and executed for rape and murder in 1996 at the age of 18.
The declaration of his innocence came nine years after another man confessed to the crime.
State-run media have sought to portray the case as demonstrating official willingness to confront the issue, and Mr Zhou said: "We feel deep remorse for wrongful convictions."
Courts at all levels were required to "seriously learn the lessons and further improve the mechanisms that can effectively prevent unjust, false and erroneous cases or correct them in a timely manner", he added.
Nian Bin, a former food-stall owner who was convicted of poisoning two children and condemned to death in 2008, was freed in August after multiple appeals.
Zhao Zuohai, a villager from the central province of Henan, was jailed for murder and released a decade later in 2010 when the man he had been convicted of killing was found alive.
Wang Gongyi, a former director of the justice ministry's Judicial Research Institute, blamed wrongful convictions on police action during investigations.
"Many unjust, false and erroneous cases were created by confessions obtained through torture," he told AFP.
The Communist Party has pledged to ensure the "rule of law with Chinese characteristics" and said it will lessen the influence of local officials over courts.