A veteran 1989 pro-democracy activist from the central Chinese province of Hunan has died suddenly in police custody, his relatives said on Wednesday.
Li Wangyang, 62, died at a hospital in Shaoyang city in the custody of the local police detention center, Li's brother-in-law Zhao Baozhu told RFA's Mandarin service.
"The hospital called us at 6:00 a.m. and told my wife that he had died," Zhao said from the hospital. "We went to visit him [on Tuesday] at 6:00 p.m., and he seemed fine then."
"The doctor said he had committed suicide."
Zhao said the family hadn't been allowed to view Li's body, however. "The police forcibly removed the body," he said. "Quite a few of them came."
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 bloodshed.
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.
Cause of death
The China Rights Defenders website said that when Li's sister, Li Wangling, arrived at the hospital, Li's body was hanging by a window in the hospital ward.
Neither the cause of death or the time of death have been made public, it said.
"The doctor told us on the phone that he had committed suicide, but when we saw his body we began to doubt this," Zhao said.
"He never [said he wanted to die]. We are going to follow this up with them."
An officer surnamed Su from the Daxiang district state security police offices in Shaoyang city confirmed the authorities' claim that Li had killed himself.
"The police are in the process of investigating this matter," Su said. "The initial verdict is that it was suicide. Suicide by hanging."
However, he declined to comment on whether anyone had been near Li at the time of his death.
"I don't know about this because I wasn't at the scene," Su said.
Fellow activist Zhou Zhirong said he fully believed that Li had died as a result of mistreatment.
"There have been a string of cases in mainland China of people being 'suicided,' he said. "Li was under illegal detention by the police department at the time he was taken to the hospital."
"He wasn't under the supervision of his family."
Zhou said Li hadn't broken any of China's laws. "If he had to go to hospital then he should have been watched over by his family, but he was under surveillance by the police."
"They were detaining him because they were afraid that other pro-democracy activists would try to visit him [on the anniversary]," he said. "None of it had any basis in law."
The number of people who died when People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops cleared Beijing of protesters using tanks and machine guns remains a mystery, and China's ruling Communist Party has banned any mention of the anniversary from official media and Internet postings.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.