Luoyang Teen's Death 'Unexplained'

The mother of a 17-year-old boy who died in police custody has demanded an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death, as China's petitioners gear up for a season of parliamentary meetings.

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petitioner-305.jpg Chinese petitioners show documents during a gathering outside a courthouse in Beijing, April 3, 2008.

HONG KONG--The mother of a teenage boy in the central Chinese city of Luoyang has called on local officials to carry out a full investigation into the death of her son.

Chen Feng, 17, died Dec. 24 in a Luoyang hospital where he was taken while serving an 18-month "re-education through labor" sentence on charges of theft.

“There were bruises all over his body. His hands and feet were severely swollen and he looked like a mere skeleton," his mother, Xia Qing, said.

"If my child was sick, they should notify me. You can’t just tell me after my child has died in hospital. So far there has been no death certificate," Xia said.

Xia said detention center officials had told her that Chen had been diagnosed with tuberculosis just days before his death.

But she said full a medical check eight months previously had revealed no health problems, and demanded an explanation of why she wasn't notified at the time of diagnosis.

Official denial

The director of the Luoyang Detention Center direction, identified by her surname Yang, denied there was anything suspicious around Chen Feng's death.

"The cause of death was tuberculosis. What you see on the photographs is corpse marks [related to tuberculosis]."  (Note from the editor: An RFA reporter was given pictures of the corpse by the family but decided not to publish them as they are graphic and remain unexplained.)

"We had similar cases before, such as heart attacks," Yang said.

"We have a special team to deal with his case, and we have reported what we are supposed to report [to the relevant authorities]."

But she declined to discuss the case further.

"We have a propaganda department. I can’t talk to you about this case over the phone. We have to go through the correct procedures. We have reported the matter to the procuratorate and to the higher level departments. We have reported what we should report," Yang said.

Call for investigation

But Xia still has questions for officials, and a demand for a full forensic examination of her son's body.

"I just need an explanation," Xia said. "I am now alone and I don’t need anything but the true cause of death, to give my son justice. I want a judicial appraisal, but they insist the cause of death was normal."

"I can’t take legal proceedings, as I am dealing with Luoyang’s public security bureau. I have talked to several lawyers and none of them dares to take the case. I don’t know what to do," she said.

Xia's case echoes those of many Chinese "petitioners," ordinary people seeking to make complaints against alleged official wrongdoing, with many of them pursuing cases through courts and complaints bureaus for years, even decades, with little to show for it.

The father of Zhang Fali died eight years ago while in police custody in Yanshan county near the northern city of Cangzhou, in Hebei province.

Zhang has been petitioning the authorities over his father's death ever since.

Season for complaints

"My father died on Feb. 2 and we were notified on Feb. 9," Zhang said. "We found bruises on the left side of my father’s chest as well as on his back. He had frostbite on his feet and scald-marks on his arms."

Zhang said the family had yet to receive a clear explanation for his father's death.

"We even petitioned at the provincial level, but still with no result. The documents I obtained from the public security bureau say that my father died of disease in hospital," Zhang added.

Hundreds of Chinese people are taking their grievances to the streets as meetings of local parliaments kick off ahead of the National People's Congress in March.

Rights activists said they expect tighter controls on China's growing army of petitioners with grievances against the ruling Communist Party and local government officials.

The majority have lost homes or farmland to development, while others are pursuing complaints about official corruption or violence against family members.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Jia Yuan. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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