Rights Lawyer Detained

A Chinese lawyer is detained on a visit to Shaoyang, the city where an activist died under suspicious circumstances.

2012.09.11
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li-wangyang-protest-305 Thousands of protesters demonstrate in Hong Kong on June 10, 2012 over the death of dissident Li Wangyang.
EyePress News

Chinese rights advocate Tang Jingling, who has been investigating the death under suspicious circumstances of imprisoned labor activist Li Wangyang, said Tuesday that he was detained for five days while on a trip to Shaoyang city in southern Hunan province where the activist died.

The Guangzhou-based lawyer said authorities picked him up just after he arrived in Shaoyang on Wednesday and released him on Monday evening.

"At about 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, I was on my way to Shaoyang to visit the family of a friend I met online, Zhang Shiliang," Tang said. "I had just got there, and I'd barely said two words to them, when the [state security police] came bursting in and detained the whole lot of us."

Tang said all those present, who included two journalists with Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper, had had their cell phones and other valuables confiscated, while he was taken along with his driver to a police station in Shaoyang and interrogated until 6:00 p.m. the following evening.

"They didn't let me sleep, and they kept me locked in their conference room, sitting there all day," he said.

He said he was then handed over to the custody of Guangzhou municipal police and held for four more days.

"They kept me locked up until Monday night," Tang said. "They said it was because of the Legislative Council elections in Hong Kong."

"They gave me back my cell phone, my laptop and my camera, but they were all broken," he said.

He said the journalists had apparently been released before him, but that he hadn't been able to confirm their whereabouts.

"They probably didn't dare to detain them for too long because they were journalists," he said. "But when I called their phones, they were switched off. When I got home, my wife said they had been released well before I was, on Thursday, I think."

Li Wangyang

Tang said the authorities had warned him not to return to Shaoyang and not to continue with his investigation into Li's death.

After Li, who had served 21 years in prison for subversion and other charges, was found dead in a hospital in Shaoyang in June, the official verdict of suicide prompted widespread suspicions among rights activists, and lawyers, and those who knew him.

Tang's wife, who gave only her surname, Wang, said her husband had been investigating Li's death, but that this visit to Shaoyang was unrelated to the case.

"There hasn't been any progress in the case whatsoever," she said. "This time, his trip to Shaoyang was simply to visit a leukemia patient he knows there; it had nothing to do with the Li Wangyang case."

"In fact, it had nothing to do with anything sensitive at all," Wang said.

Calls for investigation

Li, a veteran activist based in southern China’s Hunan province, was found hanged in a hospital room on June 6, one year after his release from prison.

A few days before, he had called in an interview with a Hong Kong television network for an official reappraisal of the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, in which hundreds were killed in a government crackdown.

Authorities in Shaoyang city, where Li lived, initially called his death a suicide, but later changed the cause of death to “accidental death” following an autopsy.

Rights lawyers, Tang among them, have called publicly for a reinvestigation of Li’s death and an immediate end to the extralegal police custody of Li's sister Li Wangling and her husband.

Among the inconsistencies in the police report on Li's death were a claim that Li, who had almost no vision and was very weak, had performed “complicated movements” needed to end his life, activists said.

Critics have also noted that security officials hastily cremated Li’s body after his death in spite of his family’s opposition, violating China’s criminal code and laws.

From June 19 to July 9, the Hunan provincial police department conducted an investigation into Li’s death, but its concluding report published on July 12 upheld the earlier verdict of suicide, despite widespread public doubts over the claim that the severely disabled 62-year-old had hanged himself.

Li had been sentenced to prison on charges of counterrevolutionary propaganda, incitement, and subversion for his role in organizing protests in Hunan province during the 1989 pro-democracy movement.

After Li’s death, police took away his sister Li Wangling and her husband Zhao Baozhu, and family members are still unable to contact them.

Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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