The family of a forced evictee who died after setting fire to himself in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi has called for a probe into his death after his body was snatched away from a local hospital by riot police.
After Hu Tengping, a migrant worker from Xinyu city who self-immolated last month over the demolition of his family's home, died on Sunday, armed police held his relatives in a separate area of the hospital while his body was removed without their consent, his sister said.
"They took his body away from the Xingang Center Hospital. My father and others were injured," said the sister, who is also surnamed Hu.
"They sent more than 1,000 special police, who beat up our relatives with truncheons, pinning them to the ground, and then they lifted his body and we only got to see him for a minute or so."
Cell phone video supplied by a rights activist showed rows of riot police in body armor in a brightly-lit white corridor with shields and truncheons facing off with a large crowd of people, many of whom were wailing with grief.
"Obviously, as his family, we would want to give him a proper send-off, and have a get-together, but the government won't allow that," Hu's sister said.
Hu had set himself ablaze after he returned home for Chinese New Year on Jan. 29 to find his ancestral home in Zhoukang village razed to the ground and his family forcibly evicted.
While some 100,000 yuan (U.S. $16,000) in intended compensation had been paid directly to his bank account in his absence, Hu's shock was enough to prompt him to douse himself in petrol and set himself on fire.
Hu was initially treated in the intensive care unit at the Xingang Center Hospital in Xinyu, but his family was banned from visiting him during a security clampdown around the annual parliamentary sessions in Beijing that took place last week, local rights activist Liu Ping said.
Liu, who has been in contact with Hu's relatives, said the family suspected that Hu may have died much earlier than doctors claimed.
"They think perhaps [he died] during the National People's Congress (NPC) and that they made it look as if it happened afterwards," Liu said in an interview.
"They wouldn't let [the relatives] visit him ... and a friend of theirs who is a doctor said he had already died."
Liu said Hu Tengping's daughter had told her that family members had been rushed out of the room after
"She contacted me by chat ... to say that the doctor had told them when they went to the hospital that her dad wasn't going to make it, and that they were fighting to save his life," Liu said. "When they were finally allowed to see him, they were rushed out after just a few minutes."
"She said that more than 1,000 armed police showed up and snatched the body away," she said.
Hu's daughter had also said that authorities had "threatened them and warned them to break of contact" with Liu, the activist said.
A healthcare worker who answered the phone at the Xingang Center Hospital said she had heard that Hu's body had been taken away, but declined to comment further.
"I know about this, but I really don't know about the details," she said.
An officer who answered the phone at the Xinyu municipal police department declined to comment, while an employee who answered the phone at the municipal government offices said they were unaware of the situation.
Hu's self-immolation was the latest in a string of similar protests from people who have lost their homes to redevelopment, often with scant compensation or chance to appeal.
On Jan. 23, a man protesting forced eviction from his home in the eastern province of Shandong set himself on fire in front of government advisers during a parliamentary meeting.
Violent forced evictions, often resulting in deaths and injuries, continue to rise in China as cash-strapped local governments team up with development companies to grab property in a bid to boost revenue, according to a recent report by rights group Amnesty International.
Amnesty International collected reports of 41 cases of self-immolation from 2009 to 2011 alone due to forced evictions. That compares to fewer than 10 cases reported in the entire previous decade.
Nearly half of all rural residents have had land forcibly taken from them, with the number of cases on the rise, according to a 2011 study by the Landesa Rural Development Institute.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.