Open inquiry into Li's death needed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 June, 2012, 12:00am


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Mainland authorities have bowed to public pressure by ordering a new investigation into the suspicious death in hospital of June 4 activist Li Wangyang. That doesn't happen often, but what sets this instance apart is the role played by Hong Kong. Hunan provincial authorities admit that persistent questions from outside media and the public about Li's death prompted them to take the case out of the hands of officials in Shaoyang . In Hong Kong, such concerns climaxed with a protest march by an estimated 25,000 people last Sunday, just six days after the city's 23rd commemoration of the June 4 crackdown, in which Li was one of many dissidents rounded up.

The timing of events is also a factor in the authorities' attempt to defuse public anger over the Li affair, which threatens to cast a shadow over an official visit to Hong Kong by President Hu Jintao for the 15th anniversary of the handover and a change of government. Nonetheless it is worth reflecting on the role played by public opinion and the media in the city, which rightly led the chief executive and other senior figures to convey Hongkongers' concerns to Beijing. The convention that Hong Kong does not comment on the internal affairs of the mainland may be well founded under the 'one country, two systems' formula. But when Hong Kong people speak up for universal values, this convention should not hinder the transmission to Beijing of their views without the perception of interference. China is, after all, our country too. Hong Kong people like to think they have a say under the city's core value of free speech, and that concerns about the rule of law and human rights are patriotic sentiments. It is good, therefore, that delegates to the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference are making concerns about the Li affair known in Beijing. Given their legitimate role in national affairs, they have a responsibility to reflect Hong Kong people's feelings where universal values are concerned.

We trust the authorities will conduct a fair and open investigation and keep their promise to publish the findings in full. The investigators conducting the new inquiry do not have a body, since Li was hastily cremated. But that need not prevent them from finding evidence of foul play if there was any. Investigators and prosecutors in jurisdictions with much tougher rules of evidence than in mainland courts have, without being able to produce a body, secured convictions for felonies causing death by presenting enough evidence to convince a judge or jury beyond reasonable doubt. Indeed, the destruction of evidence can be a circumstantial factor in such convictions. There is no excuse for the new team not to carry out the most thorough investigation.