Prominent Democracy Activist Dies Suddenly in Chinese Jail

china-pengming-nov302016.jpg Peng Ming is shown in an undated photo.

A prominent democracy activist who argued during the 1990s for an "ecological" way of life has died while serving jail time in the central Chinese province of Hubei, his family said on Wednesday.

Peng Ming, who to Thailand in 2000 before being detained in neighboring Myanmar as the result of a ruse, was the founder of the banned China Development Union (CDU), an intellectual and environment research group that advocated moderate democratic reform and a more eco-friendly economic model.

He died suddenly on Tuesday at the age of 58 in Hubei's Xianning Prison, his brother told RFA.

He said the family had no clues regarding the manner of his death, as his body had already been prepared for burial with cosmetics covering his face.

"We are still in discussions with the prison authorities about this, because his is a rather special situation," Peng Zhangming said.

"Looking at him now, you'd think he was sleeping. They've done a great job of tidying him up and making him look better," he said.

Peng Zhangming said the death certificate gave no details of the cause of death.

"It happened yesterday morning at about 8.00 a.m., when he was watching television," Peng Zhangming said. "He lost consciousness and fell to the floor, and was immediately taken to the prison hospital for emergency treatment."

"When that didn't work, they sent him straight to the best hospital in Xianning, the Central Hospital, but they were unable to revive him," he said.

"The cause of death is listed as sudden death," he said. "He was suddenly taken ill."

"I read the notes from the Xianning Central Hospital, which carried out attempts to resuscitate him, injecting him with adrenaline," Peng Zhangming added.

Calls to the Xianning Prison were answered, then immediately cut off, during office hours on Wednesday.

'Persecution in jail'

Hunan-based rights activist Peng Xiaohua said Peng had been unjustly locked up in the first place.

"Like all Chinese prisoners of conscience, it was unjust to lock him up in prison in the first place," he said. "They suffer a huge amount of persecution while in jail, so it's likely that this caused his death."

"It really breaks your heart."

According to the Christian rights group ChinaAid, Peng suffered from heart disease and other ailments, including kidney stones, for which was denied treatment while in prison.

Peng fled to Thailand after his release from labor camp, and was resettled as a political refugee with his family in 2001, where he continued to campaign for a democratic China.

But on a trip back to Thailand to visit his elderly parents, Peng was tricked into going to Myanmar by Chinese agents, his daughter told RFA at the time.

"He had purchased plane tickets for me and my brother to go and visit him, but he also had another plan in the summer of 2004, which was to go to Thailand to set up a safe haven for political refugees like himself," Lisa Peng said in an interview in 2013.

"But in Thailand, he was lured by eight secret Chinese police to the border of Burma and Thailand where he was kidnapped and sentenced to life," she said.

"Thus, those plane tickets could never be used, and that [time in 2003] was the last time I ever saw my father."

Previous arrest

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."

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, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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