A prominent Chinese dissident who died recently in prison wrote a letter warning his family to suspect foul play, should he meet with an "accident," RFA has learned.
Peng Ming died suddenly on Tuesday at the age of 58 in Hubei's Xianning Prison, while serving a life sentence for "terrorism."
Peng had been granted refugee status and settled with his family in the United States, but was kidnapped by Chinese agents on the Thai-Myanmar border during a visit to Thailand in 2004 to visit his elderly parents.
Brought back to China, Peng was sentenced on Oct. 12, 2005, to life imprisonment after being found guilty of "organizing and leading a terrorist organization," "kidnapping," and "possessing counterfeit money."
He had founded the banned China Development Union (CDU), an intellectual and environment research group that advocated moderate democratic reform and a more eco-friendly economic model.
In a handwritten letter hastily penned by Peng in 1998 and seen by RFA this week, Peng wrote: "In the event that I lose my liberty or some other unforeseen event happens to me, I ask my mother, father, brother Zhangming, sister Peng Xing, and the others to represent me to the relevant legal channels."
The letter, signed by Peng Ming, goes on: "If some accident happens to me, you can be sure that it was made to look like an accident, that it was a set up."
"I hope that people of good conscience won't be too afraid to speak out publicly against it," he wrote.
Family wants autopsy
Peng's family in the United States issued a statement on his death on Friday, calling for an autopsy to shed light on the cause of his death.
"Twelve years ago, Peng Ming was kidnapped and taken back to China from Myanmar ... where he was sentenced to life imprisonment," they said. "We kept a low profile then, and again when he was tortured."
"The only reason for this low profile was the hope that Peng Ming might one day come home alive," they said
The statement called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to issue visas for the family to return to China to see Peng Ming one more time, and to carry out an autopsy on his body with an internationally trusted doctor.
It called on the authorities to refrain from cremated Peng's body before the visas had been granted and an autopsy carried out.
Peng's sister Peng Xing said the family is currently in the process of applying for visas via the Chinese authorities in the United States.
"I'm very busy, and I'm in touch with the Chinese authorities at the moment, so as to discuss a few things," she said.
"I am trying to get a visa ... and also to arrange an autopsy, to find out exactly how he died," Peng Xing said.
"All of that is extremely complicated, because they can't keep the body for very long if they're not cremating it, so all of this is being negotiated," she said.
Dealing with authorities
Peng Zhangming, the brother named in the 1998 letter, said he is similarly busy dealing with the authorities.
"I'm at the prosecutor's office and I don't have time to talk right now, sorry," he said. "There are lots of legal arrangements to make."
"I have also begun initial discussions with the prison authorities, and they are going to keep the body for 10 days, because there are relatives overseas who need to get home, so it's a process."
"The prison has set a special guard on the body, including armed police at the gates," he said.
He said he hadn't yet been shown relevant surveillance footage related to Peng's death.
"We are going to wait until the rest of the family come back from overseas and then we'll watch it together," he said.
Anhui-based rights activist and former state prosecutor Shen Liangqing said a high international profile surrounded Peng Ming's death could help the family's case.
"This amount of international pressure may mean that they daren't try anything [related to covering up the cause of death]," Shen said. "It certainly won't do the case any harm."
"But sometimes international pressure hasn't enough where local governments are concerned, and I think that Western politicians are to blame for this," he said.
Born on Oct. 11, 1956 in Hubei, Peng had previously been arrested in January 1999 and accused of visiting prostitutes, a charge that has been used against a number of dissidents in recent years.
He was sentenced without a trial to 18 months in a police-run labor camp for "re-education" after he published his book The Fourth Landmark in Hong Kong in 1998.
In the book, Peng calls for China to find a mode of development suited to its immense population and limited resources rather than to try to surpass Western countries with unrestrained industrialization.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.