Veteran June 4 activist found hanged in hospital
Shi Jiangtao in Beijing and Tanna Chong
A veteran democracy activist in Hunan, who was jailed for 21 years for his involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and a labour rights campaign, was found dead amid suspicious circumstances in a hospital in Shaoyang yesterday morning.
Fellow activists, family members and friends of Li Wangyang refused to accept the initial ruling by police in Shaoyang that Li, 62, hanged himself in his hospital ward.
They said that although he could barely walk and had become blind and deaf after years of torture in jail, the ailing Li had been in a combative mood, seeking medical treatment and demanding government redress of the June 4 crackdown in Beijing's Tiananmen Square 23 years ago. He was also under close guard by police in the lead-up to Monday's anniversary of the crackdown.
Fellow activist Zhu Chengzhi, who went to junior middle school with him, said Li appeared to be recovering and optimistic when they met on Monday.
'We talked for quite a while, although he was in poor health,' Zhu said yesterday. 'I simply don't think it is a suicide because Li was the kind of guy who would never commit suicide even if a knife was held against his neck.'
He also said Li had asked Li Wangling, Li's younger sister, who had taken care of him since he was released from jail in May last year, to buy him a radio on Tuesday, in an attempt to help restore his hearing.
In an interview with Hong Kong's Cable TV news last month, Li said he would never give up his pursuit of democracy and the rule of law.
Li's family members and about a dozen activists who went to the hospital yesterday morning, including Zhu, were also bitter the police did not allow them to take photos of Li's body at the scene and took it away by force despite their protests.
'We demand a full autopsy as we don't even know whether he died in the morning or later last night, or whether he was murdered or committed suicide,' an unnamed activist was quoted as saying in a statement released by the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy yesterday.
Li, who worked as a trade unionist from the early 1980s, was sentenced to 13 years in prison on charges of 'counter-revolution' for leading an independent workers' federation in Shaoyang during the 1989 student-led demonstrations.
Just a few months after his early release in 2000 on medical grounds, he was sentenced to another 10 years in prison for subversion, making him one of the longest-serving political prisoners related to the June 4 crackdown.