Cabbie Dies in Custody

A suspicious death in detention sparks questions.
2010-03-15
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Taxi-Driver-Guangzhou-305.jpg
A taxi rolls along a street in Guangzhou, Dec. 1, 2008.
AFP

HONG KONG—A taxi driver in southern China has died while serving a short detention as punishment for a traffic violation, according to the man’s wife.
 
Liu Zhengguo, a driver in the Conghua city suburb of Guangzhou, in south China’s Guangdong province, died as the result of a “brain tumor,” according to police who had overseen his custody.
 
But according to Liu’s wife, his body was covered with bruises that were inconsistent with the cause of death offered by authorities.
 
“My husband has never suffered from any illness before. Absolutely not,” she said.
 
“But now his body is full of wounds and black-and-blue marks. His head was swollen. The police are so cruel.”
 
Liu’s wife said she became suspicious as a result of an uncharacteristically considerate attitude shown by the police following his death.
 
“They paid for our food and lodging when we were called to Guangzhou. They prepaid the medical expenses for my husband, saying they had done it out of humanitarian concern,” she said.
 
“Nothing could be further from the truth. There was no earthquake in our home—why should we need their ‘humanitarian concern?'”
 
Liu’s wife said she felt certain that her husband had been beaten by his captors.
 
“The facts are clear. My husband was beaten to near-death by the police, but it took six days for him to die.”
 
Traffic violation
 
Liu Zhengguo was arrested March 5 after clashing with traffic control personnel over a traffic violation and was subsequently given a 10-day detention as punishment.
 
Last Thursday, while in police custody, Liu suddenly collapsed from dizziness.

By the time he was rushed to a hospital he was already in critical condition.

Liu died Sunday in the same police-managed hospital that announced his cause of death as the result of a brain tumor.
 
News of Liu’s death in detention prompted several hundred of his friends and colleagues to surround the Traffic Management Office in the Tianhe district of Guangzhou, protesting police violence.
 
But local authorities refused to answer questions.
 
An officer contacted by telephone Monday at the Linhe police station, which first detained Liu, referred the call to upper-level management.
 
At the Traffic Management Committee of Guangzhou, the managing body that oversees city traffic, a female officer who answered the phone declined to provide any details on the case, adding that all inquiries from foreign media had to go through the city’s foreign affairs office.
 
But the officer said local newspapers had already reported the story and that police are now focusing on calming down Liu’s family members.
 
The Information Times, a newspaper in Guangzhou, reported that “there were no wounds or blood extravasations on [Liu’s] scalp,” citing sources within the hospital where Liu died.
 
Meanwhile, Liu Zhengguo’s death has attracted the attention of netizens all over China, who joke that the official excuse of a “brain tumor” is the newest invention by Chinese authorities hoping to avoid prosecution for police brutality.
 
Negotiations under way
 
Liu’s uncle, Liu Jianguo, said the family is in negotiations with officials.
 
“Various government offices are now negotiating with us but they refused to admit any wrongdoing—they are only talking about reconciling the case. If they truly didn’t make any mistakes, they wouldn’t need to negotiate with us,” he said.
 
Liu’s wife said her husband was the family’s main source of income and making ends meet would be difficult without his help.
 
“We have two daughters. One is 16 and the other is seven. My 70-year-old mother-in-law is living with us and she is blind,” she said.
 
“The whole family relied on my husband to survive.”
 
Original reporting by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Ping Chen. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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