Answers demanded in activist's death
Ng Tze-wei and Simpson Cheung
An online petition demanding a fair investigation into the death of Hunan democracy and union activist Li Wangyang is gathering steam.
Family and supporters suspect foul play but local police say he hanged himself in hospital.
Activists Hu Jia and Ai Weiwei had joined more than 3,300 Chinese and foreign supporters of Li in signing the petition by 6pm yesterday.
The petition was initiated by Wen Yunchao - a prominent Hong Kong-based online media critic who is better known by his internet pseudonym Beifeng - Beijing economist Xia Yeliang and democracy activist Wu Renhua in the United States. The petition was titled: 'An urgent appeal for a credible investigation into the death of Li Wangyang.'
Many people close to Li were confined to their homes yesterday.
'I have been prevented from leaving my teahouse [also my home] since this morning,' said friend and fellow union activist Yin Zhengan, who said there were seven plainclothes officers guarding his door. 'When I asked why I couldn't leave, they just said I couldn't.'
Police have set a deadline of noon today for Li's sister, Li Wangling, and her husband Zhao Baozhu, to agree to an autopsy. But a statement issued yesterday by the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said they would only agree to an autopsy in the presence of a lawyer from outside Shaoyang . The couple also confirmed that Li's body had been frozen since yesterday morning. Family members were barred from seeing the body on Wednesday after police removed it from the hospital that morning.
'There is no legal basis for police to keep the body away from the family if this is not considered a criminal case, as they claim,' veteran legal rights activist Tang Jingling told Hong Kong Cable Television from Shaoyang yesterday.
'And if it is a criminal case and they rush to cremate the body, then it is tantamount to destroying evidence - then this is not only against the law, but also interference with justice, which is more serious.'
Li was found hanged on Wednesday morning in a hospital in Shaoyang. Family and friends refused to believe that the democracy fighter killed himself because of his character and the circumstances of his death.
Li, who served two jail terms totalling 21 years for 'counter-revolution' and subversion charges, was deaf and blind when he was released from prison in May of last year. During an interview with Cable Television before this year's anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen crackdown, he needed assistance when he walked, and his hands shook.
'It's impossible that he could tie the noose himself,' Yin said. 'And it's a big question where he got the white bandage to make the noose.
'He was also someone who believed in doing things for a cause. Even if he did commit suicide, hanging himself is not a way he would have chosen. He would have gone on strike, started a petition.'
In Hong Kong, Michael Tien Puk-sun, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress, said he would write to demand that Beijing look into Li's death.
Some 50 demonstrators from the Hong Kong Alliance In Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, the Civic Party and other concern groups marched to the central government's liaison office at noon yesterday.
Civic Party legislator Alan Leong Kah-kit said the circumstances suggested Li's death was not a suicide, but a price paid by Li for his interview with the Hong Kong TV station.