Ten lawyers from mainland China and from Hong Kong have sent an open letter to China’s parliament seeking a reinvestigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Chinese dissident Li Wangyang, charging that police unlawfully concluded that he committed suicide by hanging.
In the letter to the National People’s Congress (NPC), they pointed out what they called illogical conclusions of a police report on his June death, including a claim that Li, who had almost no vision and was very weak, had performed “complicated movements” needed to end his life, signatories told RFA on Monday.
The lawyers also noted that security officials had hastily cremated Li’s body after his death in spite of his family’s opposition. This, they said, blatantly violated China’s criminal code and laws.
Li, a veteran activist based in southern China’s Hunan province, was found hanged in a hospital room on June 6, one year after his release from prison.
A few days before, he had called in an interview with a Hong Kong television network for an official reappraisal of the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, in which hundreds were killed in a government crackdown.
In their open letter to the NPC’s standing committee, the lawyers called for a reinvestigation of Li’s death and an immediate end to what it called the extralegal police custody of Li's sister Li Wangling and her husband.
Authorities in Shaoyang city, where Li lived, initially called his death a suicide, but later changed the cause of death to “accidental death” following an autopsy.
From June 19 to July 9, the Hunan provincial police department conducted an investigation into Li’s death, but its concluding report published on July 12 upheld the earlier verdict of suicide, despite widespread public doubts over the claim that the severely disabled 62-year-old had hanged himself.
Wang Quanping, an attorney and signatory to the letter based in southern China’s Guangdong province, said he doesn’t believe that Li killed himself.
“He was a staunch fighter for freedom and had been jailed for more than two decades, but he never gave up his ideals and dreams,” Wang said in an interview on Monday.
“Now, after his release, why would he commit suicide?”
Li served 21 years in prison on charges of counterrevolutionary propaganda, incitement, and subversion because of his role in organizing protests in Hunan province during the 1989 pro-democracy movement.
After Li’s death, police took away his sister Li Wangling and her husband Zhao Baozhu, and family members are still unable to contact them.
“If the police authorities are doing things in a transparent and open way, they should allow family members to speak out,” Wang said.
Another lawyer said he had come across cases where his clients had died under mysterious circumstances, with their deaths later described as suicides.
“I have dealt with cases similar to Li’s,” said Lin Qilei, a Beijing-based lawyer who also signed the petition.
“Clients of mine have died mysteriously in detention centers or other places, and their deaths were then labeled ‘suicides.’”
“After Li Wangyang’s death, these fallacies can no longer be accepted. We have to initiate systematic measures to eliminate these kinds of wrongs,” Lin added.
Xiao Guozhen, another Beijing-based signatory, explained why she signed the appeal.
“As a legal practitioner, I feel obliged to take more social responsibility in pursuing justice and rectifying social maladies,” she said.
Other lawyers who signed the letter include Liu Weiguo in Shandong province, Jiang Tianyong in Beijing, Tang Jingling in Guangdong, and Albert Ho, a member of Hong Kong’s legislature.
Reported from Hong Kong by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated by Ping Chen.