A key labour activist during the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement has been found dead just two days after the 23rd anniversary of the crackdown.
The sister and brother-in-law of Li Wangyang (李旺阳) say they found him hanging from the ward in his hospital when they came to visit him Wednesday morning.
Li had been imprisoned for 22 years following his arrest in 1989, then transferred to a hospital, where he remained under surveillance.
The two decades of mistreatment under detention had left him almost completely blind and deaf by the time he was released in May 2011, according to his family.
Despite this, Li’s family members are suspicious of claims by police and hospital staff that he had committed suicide.
“He was always very strong, there was no sign at all that he was thinking of killing himself,” said brother-in-law Zhao Baozhu to The Associated Press. “Even though he had so many illnesses and spent more than 20 years in jail, he never talked about suicide. So I don’t believe it.”
Zhao also said several police officers forcibly removed Li’s dead body without the approval of family members.
Pictures of Li’s final moments circulating on Sina Weibo (Warning- Graphic!) were met with disbelief at the police’s official account of the story — Li Wangyan’s feet were on the ground, and as such, was unlikely to have hung himself.
As shock waves spread across the internet, a few people began getting down to action, hammering together a petition calling upon the government to open an investigation into the death of Li Wangyang.
The petition, initiated by blogger-activist Wen Yunchao, economist Xia Yeliang, and Tiananmen dissident Wu Renhua (now in exile in the United States), also called for authorities to allow the family and friends of Li Wangyang to take care of his last rites, and for compensation to be made if foul play on the part of police was found.
By 3am Thursay morning, some 1,100 people had already signed the petition.
In the meanwhile, Li’s family was said to be under severe pressure from local authorities to allow a speedy cremation, said Wen Yunchao, one of the initiators of the petition. Towards the later part of the evening, they were no longer contactable.
The 97-year-old mother of Li’s good friend Zhu Chengzhi was also harrassed to the extent that Zhu was forced to leave town, added Wen.
“If Li Wangyang is hastily cremated against the wishes of his family members,” said Wen, “then there can be no doubt that Li Wangyang has indeed died at the hands of security agents.”
News report from Hong Kong broadcaster NOW News: