Activist Dies in China's Hunan After Years Campaigning Over Brother-in-Law's 'Suicide'

Zhao Baozhu, who has died of late-stage liver cancer, never lived to see his wish for a democratic China fulfilled.
By Gigi Lee, Gao Feng
2021.08.10
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Activist Dies in China's Hunan After Years Campaigning Over Brother-in-Law's 'Suicide' Democracy activist Zhao Baozhu is shown under care at the Cancer Hospital in Shaoyang, Hunan, with wife Li Wangling standing at right, July 9, 2021.
Photo: Chen Yuhua

Zhao Baozhu, a democracy activist from the central Chinese province of Hunan, has died of late-stage liver cancer at the age of 63, RFA has learned.

Zhao was the brother-in-law of Hunan activist Li Wangyang, who died in suspicious circumstances in June 2012, and had spent years campaigning for truth and redress over Li's death, which police claimed was "suicide."

Li’s death in a hospital in Hunan province's Shaoyang city on June 6 sparked an international outcry, with protests in Hong Kong, and his sister Li Wangling and her husband Zhao placed under house arrest.

Zhao died at 6.20 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 10 due to complications from liver cancer.

In a video clip paying tribute to Zhao, Li Wangling said: "I only had one brother, and he is gone, and now I have lost my husband too."

Li said there are plans to inter Zhao's remains in Shaoyang's Dashanling Cemetery, not far from Li Wangyang's tomb.

Lin Jiancheng, the former journalist who reported on Li's situation just days before his death, said he had known Zhao and Li for eight years, adding: "Maybe they hated me at first, but now, they are like family."

Fellow activist Lin Tan said he is worried about Li's financial situation in the wake of her husband's death, but that raising funds for the family would likely be deemed a breach of China's national security law.

"It's not just paying our respects that's banned: even remittances could be regarded as endangering national security," Lin Tan said.

Sacrifices for democracy

Li Wangyang's former defense lawyer Tang Jingling said Zhao and Li had sacrificed many things to support Li Wangyang's democracy activism over many years.

"I would like to pay tribute to the couple and bid farewell to Mr. Zhao Baozhu," Tang said in the video. "I think that what he has given up so much for will, one day, be realized."

"It would have been Zhao's greatest regret to have died before winning redress for Li Wangyang," he said.

Zhao told RFA in July, as he was nearing the end of his life, that his remaining wish was to see democracy in China.

"I have always hoped I would see the arrival of a democratic China before I die," he told RFA on July 7, 2021. "A free China, a democratic China."

"But maybe I will never see it after all, the way things are going."

Zhao said he was already receiving only palliative care by the time of the interview.

"The cancer is at an advanced stage now ... and the treatment can only reduce the pain," he said. "I'm confined to my bed all day."

Death in police custody

Li Wangyang, 62, died at a hospital in Shaoyang city in the custody of local police, allegedly on June 6. When relatives arrived at the scene, his body was hanging by the neck from the ceiling near his hospital bed, but was removed by police soon afterwards.

Police took away Li’s body after his death was discovered and kept it in an unknown location, Li's relatives said.

Relatives, friends, and rights groups have all called into question several details of both circumstance and timing which they say point to the possibility of foul play, including photographs distributed on the Chinese microblog service Sina Weibo, which showed Li’s feet touching the floor.

Li, a former worker in a glass factory, was jailed for 13 years for "counterrevolution" after he took part in demonstrations inspired by the student-led protests in Beijing, and for a further 10 years for "incitement to overthrow state power" after he called for a reappraisal of the official verdict on the crackdown.

He was blind in both eyes and had lost nearly all his hearing when he was finally released from prison in May 2011, his family said.

Li's death came as Chinese authorities moved to crack down on dissidents and rights activists around the country, in a bid to prevent any public memorials on the 23rd anniversary of the June 4, 1989 bloodshed.

The authorities have refused to make public the results of a recent autopsy on Li's body.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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