Hunan Probes Official's Death

Chinese media and netizens point to a possible cover-up in the death of a man who challenged local officials.

2011.11.07
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A protester holds a paper-made prison door in front of a policeman (R) standing guard during Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Hong Kong, Aug. 18, 2011.
AFP

Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hunan have carried out a second autopsy on a village Communist Party secretary whose body was found floating in a river in June, amid fears of a cover-up.

The autopsy was conducted following calls for an investigation into the death of You Ji'an, former branch Party secretary of Foguang village in Hunan's Xinhua county, but the results will not be known for another month.

You's body was found floating in a local river on June 9 after he had tried to lodge a number of complaints against local officials. His family said it was covered in bruises and injuries consistent with severe beatings.

The case sparked a furor among China's netizens, many of whom questioned local officials' claims that You had left local government buildings of his own accord and hadn't been seen since.

Ge Lifang, U.S.-based spokeswoman for the petitioner group China Alliance for Victims of Injustice, said official violence against people who use the legal system to fight for their rights is very common.

"They are using the same methods as organized crime to control [petitioners]," Ge said. "They ensure that there is nothing which can link it back to the People's Government."

"They have become totally criminalized and they will stop at nothing," she said.

Activist 'under guard'

She cited the case of blind Shandong activist Chen Guangcheng, who is under guard at his home in Dongshigu village by armed thugs with no official status, after he fell afoul of the authorities by challenging abuses of the "One Child" family planning regime.

"There are a lot of thugs around him," Ge said. "A lot of the Shanghai petitioners got beaten up and seriously injured when they tried to go over there to offer support."

Chen, 39, a self-taught lawyer who has persistently campaigned for the rights of ordinary people under China's draconian family-planning regime, was handed a four-year, three-month jail term for “damaging public property and obstructing traffic” in August 2006.

Chen had exposed abuses like forced abortions and sterilizations by local family planning officials under China’s “One Child” policy, as well as official harassment and attacks on families who exceeded local birth quotas.

Dozens of activists have reported being detained, beaten, and robbed by gangs of armed thugs in recent months after they tried to visit him.

Media express concern

One writer and online campaigner surnamed Liu said netizens had been concerned to read reports in local newspapers, some of which have covered You's case as far as they are able, that local officials had tried to bribe the family to go ahead with a quick cremation.

"They offered them 100,000-200,000 yuan (U.S.$15,750-U.S$31,505) out of their own pockets," Liu cited media reports as saying.

"[The family] has kept the body at the morgue for six months and refuses to have it cremated because they say there are bruises and internal injuries."

The Qianjiang Daily News and Zhejiang Online ran a commentary on the autopsy which took place "in recent days," amid promises of a news conference to publish the results.

"Why are the results only going to be published a month from now," the paper said. "It's pretty basic medical science to determine whether You Ji'an drowned in the river or whether he was killed and then pushed in."

"What will they be doing during that month? They will be waiting for popular interest to subside, and spend it calming down the relatives," it said.

Sued government for damages

You's conflict with the authorities began after he tried to sue the government for damages after he lost his job during sick-leave from an infection during a sterilization operation in 1989.

Petitioners frequently report cases of beatings, kidnappings, and "accidental" deaths which befall them as they seek redress for alleged official wrongdoing.

"Cases of unusual deaths are extremely common in China; they are all over the Internet," Liu said. "In none of them does the truth of the situation ever come to light."

"They will use every sort of method ... and once they have 'taken care of' someone, their lies are never discovered."

Many Chinese petitioners say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harassed by the authorities if they try to petition a higher level of government.

Reported by Shi Shan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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