Police in the southern Chinese province of Hunan have forcibly seized videotape and equipment from a television journalist investigating the suspicious death of a 14-year-old boy, according to the reporter. The boy’s family meanwhile say they have been ordered to dispose of the body and refused an autopsy.
Two of the boys who beat up Xiao were cousins of the deputy police chief of Xintian county, whose surname is Zheng.
On Oct. 14, Hunan eTV reporter Mi Liang went to Xintian county with a colleague to investigate the death of Xiao Chucheng, a junior high school student in Maoli village in the south of the province, near the border with Guangdong.
He had nearly finished his interviews when the head of the local police investigation team demanded that he hand over the videotape from the camera. The television team refused, and the police started to force it from them.
“They started to force the camera away from us. One of them couldn’t manage it, so their leader said, ‘Let’s get some more people on it.’ So about four of them set upon me and the cameraman to try to get the tape from us. A couple of them grabbed hold of my neck in a tug-of-war, and it was then that I let go of the camera, and they got it from me,” Mi said.
Xiao Chucheng, 14, was a student at the Maoli Village High School in Xintian county. He was beaten up on Sept. 18 by a group of fellow students after telling them not to spit on the floor, according to local sources.
The same evening, when he returned to the school to study alone, the same group of students was waiting for him outside the school gates and threatened him. Xiao Chucheng later disappeared and his body was found the following day in a fishpond by the village crossroads, the sources said.
In the Oct. 14 incident, police took the eTV reporters' camera away, along with the two reporters' mobile phones. Mi said the deputy secretary of the Xintian county law and punishment committee watched the entire incident.
"The whole time this was going on, the deputy head of the county law and punishment committee, Zhu Shilin, was there watching. He didn't do anything to stop it, didn't say a word. At the very least you could say that he had a permissive attitude," Mi said.
The police returned the journalists' camera and mobile phones after about four hours, he said, but the camera was damaged and the videotape had disappeared. Mi Liang said police told him they had confiscated the videotape because its contents were unfavorable to them.
An officer who answered the phone at the Xintian county police station denied that any force was used.
“I heard that two reporters came to conduct interviews,” the officer told RFA reporter Shen Hua. “They weren’t beaten up. They were shooting things that were not permitted, so they were prevented from filming.”
Asked if Mi was manhandled like a criminal suspect, the officer said. “No, I don’t think so. He’s exaggerating.”
Mi said police might have been worried about some of his research, which cast doubt on the official verdict of “death by drowning” in Xiao Chucheng’s case.
The boy’s family had already taken a close look at the fishpond where Xiao’s body was found and decided that it was highly unlikely that a 14-year-old could have drowned there.
“The kid’s body was found in water that was 84 centimeters deep. On a boy his height, of 1.64 meters, the water would have come just as far as his waist. Is it likely that he drowned?” Mi said.
According to Xiao’s uncle, Xiao Dexian, the boy was a competent swimmer with good grades, and in excellent physical health, so the family didn’t believe he could have drowned in a shallow fishpond.
He said at least two of the boys who had beaten Xiao the day before his body was found were related to top police officers in the area.
“Two of the boys who beat up Xiao were cousins of the deputy police chief of Xintian county, whose surname is Zheng,” Xiao’s uncle said.
Mi’s interviews also made this point. During his visit to Xintian, the journalist also discovered that none of the seven boys who beat Xiao on the day before his death had attended classes at the school for more than a week.
“At the time, we interviewed a village official called Yang Guiyuan. He said the teachers and principal of the high school had told one child in particular not to attend school for the time being,” Mi said.
“When we asked him why that was, he said we would probably never know.”
Xiao’s uncle said he had written to the Xintian county government and the municipal authorities in nearby Yongzhou city expressing his doubts over the verdict on his son’s death and seeking a criminal investigation.
Higher authorities refused his request and asked that the family dispose of Xiao’s body immediately, Xiao Dexian said.
Mi said he and his camerman had been denied permission from the authorities to film Xiao’s body in the morgue, although the boy’s family had invited them to do so.
“This morning we were ordered to deal with the body immediately again, by the government,” Xiao’s uncle, Xiao Dexian, said Tuesday. “They said it was because the case was already concluded. They said the case was concluded when a case hasn’t even been opened yet.”
Neither would the police agree to a medical autopsy on Xiao’s body, Xiao Dexian said, adding that the family’s attempt to publicise the case via the Internet had resulted in their online access being blocked.
“I used to go online every day to write about this case, but now my computer’s IP address has been blocked, and I can’t write updates unless I go to a different place to do it. I can’t get online at home, at work, or at the Internet cafe,” he said.
“I didn’t know what human rights meant before this. It’s only now that I realize that we have been stripped of our human rights,” Xiao Dexian said.
Xiao said he had succeeded in getting considerable attention for Xiao’s case through his online activities, and the Hunan provincial police department had already sent an investigative team to Xintian county to look into the case.
But he said Xintian county police officials had told him to his face not to get his hopes up.
“When the immortals come down to Earth, they still have to ask the Earth for directions,” he said he was told.
Officials who answered the phone at the Maoli village committee and the Xintian county government both declined to comment, saying they knew nothing of the case.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Shen Hua. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.