The father of a young man who died during China's 1989 military crackdown on student-led democracy protests on Tiananmen Square has hanged himself in protest, relatives and fellow activists said.
"One of the members of the Tiananmen Mothers, an elderly father called Ya Weilin, died suddenly by his own hand," Ding Zilin, founder member of the Tiananmen Mothers, told RFA's Mandarin service.
Ding said Ya had left a suicide note which she paraphrased: "I am Ya Weilin. My son Ya Aiguo was killed by troops enforcing martial law in 1989. Twenty-three years later, there is still no justice."
Ya, 73, a retired worker in China's No. 2 nuclear research institute, was found in an underground parking garage below his residential complex in Beijing after apparently hanging himself there on Friday.
He was the first relative of a Tiananmen victim to have taken his or her own life, Ding said.
"He has gone ahead of all of us," she said. "He is the first to use his death as a form of protest."
Ya apparently timed his suicide so that it would be publicized just ahead of the 23rd anniversary of the crackdown, which ended weeks of mass protests which brought Beijing to a standstill and precipitated a leadership crisis among the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
The number of people killed on the night of June 3-4 remains a mystery. China’s official death toll is 241, including 36 students.
The crackdown set off a wave of condemnation across the globe, and for several years China was treated as a near-pariah, as Western governments offered asylum to student leaders fleeing into exile.
The Tiananmen Mothers, which represents all victims of the crackdown who died or were maimed, has repeatedly called for a dialogue with Chinese officials on a reappraisal of the crackdown, and for victims' families to be allowed to pursue legal claims against the government.
The group has also called for a new investigation into the incident, for "reasonable compensation" for victims' families, and for those responsible to be held judicially accountable.
Ding said Ya's wife, Zhang Zhenxia, and elder son had seen the suicide note days beforehand, and had implored Ya to give up his plan.
"His wife ... told him that she couldn't bear him to leave her," Ding said. "Her husband said goodbye to her on May 25, and she thought he was just going out and would be back in a while."
"She didn't think that he was never coming back."
Ding said Ya's family had all seen the suicide note, but had not thought to hide it before the police arrived.
"They were inexperienced and they didn't dare move it," she said. "So in the end, the police came and took over very quickly ... and now they have the body and the suicide note," she said.
Ya's body was scheduled for cremation on Sunday, Ding added.
Zhang Zhenxia, Ya's wife, spoke briefly with RFA's Mandarin service on Sunday, but ended the interview after being overcome with grief.
"It was because of our child," Zhang said. "[His note said that] he died swallowing his anger, and that he died as a protest."
"He just said to me, Zhenxia, I can't take care of you any more, and then he left, and he never came back," she said.
'I'm not afraid'
Asked if she feared retribution from the authorities, Zhang said: "They can do as they like; I'm not afraid. I seek only the truth ... I haven't committed any crime."
"I have lost my son; what else is there to say? I don't care who comes. They are monitoring our home phone line."
No form of public memorial has ever been held for those who died when the People’s Liberation Army cleared thousands of protesters from the center of the city, and police regularly clamp down on any form of public protest around the June 4 anniversary.
Officials have characterized the 1989 demonstrations as "political turmoil," charging participants with "counterrevolutionary activity," and have ignored growing calls in recent years for a public reckoning with the crackdown.
Former student leaders say that any discussion of the official verdict on the crackdown looks unlikely ahead of a key party leadership succession later this year.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.