An activist who was jailed for 10 days after speaking publicly to the media about his doubts over his friend's alleged suicide in police custody has yet to be released by authorities in the central Chinese province of Hunan, sparking calls for his freedom.
Zhu Chengzhi was among several activists seized on June 9 after the death of Li Wangyang in a Shaoyang hospital sparked a public outcry at the official verdict of "suicide."
He was subsequently given a 10-day detention on a charge of "disrupting social order" after casting doubts online about how Li died, according to the overseas-based group China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD).
Beijing-based rights activist Wang Lihong, a personal friend of Zhu, has launched an online campaign on his behalf.
"Zhu is an incredibly kind and warm person," Wang said. "In my article, I describe a Good Samaritan."
"He was willing to help anyone who was in difficulty."
Wang said Zhu lent his support to even the most hopeless causes among China's petitioners—ordinary Chinese who pursue official complaints against the government, often for many years and amid beatings, detentions, stonewalling, and harassment.
"He would never turn anyone down," Wang said. "And yet the authorities have locked him up."
"I wanted to write this article to express my utter despair at what this shows us about our society."
Thousands of people have signed an online petition, joining growing calls for a government probe into the death of veteran 1989 pro-democracy activist Li Wangyang after official claims that he killed himself while in police custody were disputed by activists and a Hong Kong official.
The petition, which was initiated by veteran journalist and blogger Wen Yunchao and a number of Hong Kong-based pro-democracy groups, is indicative of a growing mood of public outrage and suspicion surrounding Li's death.
The signature campaign follows a demonstration by thousands of people in Hong Kong who carried symbols of mourning for Li and who called for a full investigation into his death.
Activists, politicians, and even government officials in Hong Kong have responded to Li's death, with further demonstrations planned for July 1, the anniversary of the former British colony's 1997 return to Chinese rule.
Li Wangyang, 62, died at a hospital in Shaoyang city in the custody of local police 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.
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.
Police took away Li’s corpse after his death was discovered and have kept it in an unknown location, Li's relatives 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 military crackdown on the student led pro-democracy movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
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.
Chinese activists have since begun issuing statements via Twitter pledging that they would never commit suicide, in an attempt to stymie any future attempts to do away with them.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.