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Relatives Question Hunan Activist’s “Suicide”; Demand Autopsy

June 6, 2012

Li Wangyang with friend, Daxiang District Hospital, Shaoyang, Hunan Province, July 23, 2011

A relative of blind labor activist Li Wangyang (李旺阳) told Human Rights in China (HRIC) that Li was found dead on June 6, hanging by the window in a hospital room where he was being treated for his deteriorating health and was under round-the-clock police surveillance. The relative said that family members do not believe it was suicide and issued an urgent appeal on the Internet calling for an immediate official investigation.

Li’s brother-in-law, Zhao Baozhu (赵宝珠), told HRIC that just after 6 a.m. on June 6, he and his wife, Li’s younger sister, received a call from the Daxiang District Hospital in Shaoyang, Hunan Province, telling them that Li had committed suicide. When they arrived at the hospital, Zhao said, “we saw that his body was still hanging by the window, and his two feet were clearly still standing on the ground! But they [hospital staff] did not let us get near him, and did not let us take photos. Then they dragged his body away.”

Zhao added: “When my wife and I went to visit Li yesterday evening [June 5], our conversation was very normal; we didn't see any indication that he was thinking of suicide. The authorities had begun sending people there to monitor him on May 22. Our family and Li's friends strongly demand a full autopsy.”

Li Wangyang (L) with labor activist Zhang Shanguang (who was serving a 7-year sentence), Hunan No. 1 Prison, 1995

On the evening of June 6, as news of his death spreads, Li’s supporters and fellow activists began an online petition, “An Urgent Appeal for a Serious Investigation into Li Wangyang’s Death.” Initiated by journalist Bei Feng (北风), economist Xia Yeliang (夏业良), and literary scholar Wu Renhua (吴仁华), the appeal questions the police designation of Li’s death as a suicide, demands an investigation by Shaoyang authorities under the observation by Li’s family members and his close friends, and to publicize the result. According to a Deutsche Welle reporter, in the early morning of June 7, Beijing time, just hours after it started circulating, the petition has been signed by more than 1,000 people. The list of signers posted online shows the names of people in China and elsewhere in Asia, the United States, Europe, and Australia.

Li Wangyang was among the first labor rights activists who called for the establishment of independent unions in China. In 1989, he formed the Shaoyang Autonomous Union. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison because of his participation in the 1989 Democracy Movement. He refused to admit guilt, and was tortured in prison. As a result of torture, he lost his sight and hearing, and had difficulty walking.  After his release, Li started petitioning the Shaoyang government for payment for the treatment of the medical conditions he developed in prison. In 2001, Li staged a hunger strike to protest the lack of compensation and appealed for the attention of the international community. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power,” four years of post-release deprivation of political rights. He was released in May 2011.

For more information on Li Wangyang, see: