Friend of prominent 1989 student activist dies suddenly in police detention

Chen Ziliang, friend of Xu Guang, reportedly died of a heart attack on Dec. 27, according to a local activist.
By Gao Feng for RFA Mandarin
2022.12.29
Friend of prominent 1989 student activist dies suddenly in police detention Chen Ziliang, a friend of detained former 1989 student leader Xu Guang, died of a heart attack Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, while being detained by state security police in his home city of Jinyun, China.
Credit: Network screenshot

The friend of a hunger-striking democracy activist has died in detention in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang after being held for six months, local activists told Radio Free Asia.

Chen Ziliang, a friend of detained former 1989 student leader Xu Guang, died of a heart attack in the early hours of Dec. 27 while detained by state security police in his home city of Jinyun in July on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a charge frequently used to target critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, fellow Zhejiang activist Zou Wei said.

Zou said Chen was a political prisoner, and had died before reaching the age of 50. His exact age wasn’t immediately known. Zou said a hospital informed Chen’s family that he had died of a heart attack at around 2 a.m. on Dec. 27.

"Chen's family members have been warned not to talk to anyone about his death," he said. "They even named some of Chen's old friends, including me, and told the family not to be in contact with us."

He said the family members haven't received a certificate identifying Chen's remains, which have yet to be cremated.

"His illness wasn't treated in a timely manner, and the authorities denied requests from the lawyer for bail," he said. "It was that laissez-faire attitude to the health and life of a political prisoner that pushed him finally to death."

ENG_CHN_ChenZiliangDeath_12292022.2.jpg
Former 1989 student leader Xu Guang [2nd from left] with fellow activists at the grave of Chinese dissident Wang Rongqing, in an undated photo. Credit: Citizen journalist via RFA

Chen's arrest came after he spoke out about the state security police's targeting of former 1989 democracy movement leader Xu Guang.

Overseas China Democracy Party activist Jiang Fuzhen said the authorities had been trying to use Chen Ziliang's testimony to build a case against Xu.

"He was detained because he told the rest of the world about Xu Guang's situation,” Jiang said. “I'm sure that's a key factor."

"He was just a good friend of Xu's who didn't take part in many [political] activities," he said. "It's pretty bad that this is how it ended for him."

Radio Free Asia reported in July that Xu, a former student leader of the 1989 protest movement at Hangzhou University, was being force-fed in detention after refusing food and drink.

Xu, 54, was detained after he held up a placard outside Hangzhou's Yuquan police station demanding his phone back, after it was confiscated by police.

He had been approached by officers from the Xihu district police department and warned to keep a low profile during the 33rd anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre on June 4.

Xu had previously served a five-year jail term after trying to formally register the China Democracy Party as a political party in 1998, and has repeatedly called on the CCP to overturn the official verdict of "counterrevolutionary rebellion" on the 1989 protests.

The New York-based Human Rights in China describes the June 3-4, 1989, massacre as a government-backed military crackdown that ended large-scale, peaceful protests in Beijing and other cities during that year.

Public mourning for victims, whose numbers remain unknown, and discussion of the events of spring and summer 1989 are banned.

References to June 4, 1989, blocked, filtered or deleted by the Communist Party’s “public opinion management” system and the Great Firewall that blocks and filters unapproved content from beyond China’s borders.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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