Award-winning Chinese human rights activist Ji Sizun has died of cancer, weeks after the end of his prison term. He was 71.
Ji, a self-taught legal activist from the southeastern province of Fujian, died of colorectal cancer on Wednesday afternoon at the Zhangzhou Xiangcheng Hospital in Zhangzhou city, his family said.
He had just finished serving a four-and-a-half year jail term for publicly supporting the 2014 pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and had been held incommunicado and under close surveillance by the authorities since his "release" in April.
His family members were denied permission to visit or speak with him until he was unconscious, and Ji's body was sent directly for cremation after his death by the authorities.
"I went to see him yesterday day evening, when [it was clear that] he wasn't going to last long," Ji's sister Ji Qiaozhuang told RFA on Wednesday.
"I couldn't even say a few words to him; he had totally lost consciousness and there was no reaction from him," she said.
"He has gone now, so we'll have to give him a send-off when the ashes come back to us."
She said her brother had dedicated his life to human rights work, which was why he had never married. "He would say that his work was too dangerous, so he didn't want to have a wife and child to care about him."
"I hope his spirit will endure, because it was so good: there was nobody like him," Ji Qiaozhuang said. "As his sister, I think his spirit should be kept alive."
Ji's cancer was diagnosed while he was in prison, and he was offered treatment in a local hospital, according to Ji Zhongjiu, a lawyer who had tried to visit him there.
"Their excuse was that he was in the intensive care unit, and that I couldn't go in there," Ji Zhongjiu said. "The reason his illness got worse was that he was transferred from [the provincial capital] Fuzhou to Zhangzhou, which is a long way, and the transfer had a huge impact on him."
"Also, the standard of medical care he received was probably a bit worse than he got in the prison hospital," he said.
Questions about cause of death
He said previous visits he had made to Ji in hospital had yielded scant information, as Ji had regarded him with suspicion.
A source close to the case said Ji's remains had been handed over to his local neighborhood committee, rather than to his family, sparking suspicions that Ji's death may not have been entirely due to natural causes.
"There are huge question marks over this whole thing ... as for the family's letter entrusting them with this task, the family are very confused about that," the source said. "The letter was signed on June 12, and Ji suddenly died less than a month after they signed it, so clearly there are suspicions that the authorities have been playing god."
He said the family never wanted Ji to be cremated.
"There was a lot of conflict [in the family] and they were under immense pressure," the source said.
Earlier this year, Ji was awarded the fifth Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders, for his contribution in promoting legal rights and education at the grassroots level in China. Cao died in March 2014 after she was denied medical treatment for months while in detention.
The award is intended for those who carry on Cao’s grassroots advocacy while facing threats and risks in promoting human rights, protecting vulnerable social groups from abuses, pushing for civil society participation in international human rights mechanisms, and monitoring the Chinese government’s implementation of its human rights obligations.
Ji was handed a four-and-a-half-year jail term for "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" and "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" for helping petitioners to organize two protests in August and September 2014, and for his support for the democracy protests in Hong Kong.
He was "released" from Putian Prison in Fujian Province on April 26.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.