Questions remain over Li's death

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 July, 2012, 12:00am


Having spent most of the 22 years since the June 4 crackdown in jail, labour activist Li Wangyang was relatively unknown on the mainland. It was an outcry from Hong Kong people more than anything else that prompted a review of the circumstances of his sudden death in his hospital room in Shaoyang , Hunan province last month followed by his hasty cremation. News of the fresh investigation achieved one aim by defusing escalating tensions here ahead of the recent visit by President Hu Jintao . But the outcome, which upheld the verdict of suicide, failed to address the concerns of a lot of Hong Kong people.

The final reports by a joint team of forensic experts and investigators were comprehensive, running to 10,000 words. Based on a review of the original police report and autopsy, they found no reason to rule out suicide by hanging. As for ruling out other possible explanations, such as murder, they relied on closed-circuit television evidence that no one entered Li's room apart from medical staff and his room-mate. Forensic explanations were advanced for circumstances that raised questions, such as how Li - blind, deaf and frail - could have hung himself from a window grille while his feet remained in contact with the floor, as shown by a photograph widely circulated on the internet.

Inconsistencies remain. For example, the reports contradict a claim by district authorities, issued shortly after 25,000 people protested against the suicide verdict in Hong Kong, that Li's death was an accident. The bandages from which Li was said to have fashioned a noose have become a sheet of linen torn from a bed sheet. There is the apparent U-turn by Li's sister Li Wangling and her husband Zhao Baozhu, who originally said they did not consent to an autopsy or cremation, and then disappeared after voicing a protest. The Beijing-backed Hong Kong China news agency has released a note it said was handwritten by Li Wangling a month ago, saying her brother's case was settled and they wanted no further contact with the outside world. Last, but not least, there is the unbowed demeanour of Li, an iron-willed dissident, in interviews with Hong Kong and French television crews a few days before the June 4 anniversary.

A local pathologist has found the finding of fracture of the cervical spine as evidence of hanging 'very problematic'. Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, has invited an Australian pathologist to review the reports. On the face of it, they do appear authoritative. However, they would be more credible and reassuring to many Hong Kong people if Li's sister and brother-in-law were to come out in public and affirm they are happy with the outcome and want to move on.