Hunan party chief affirmssuicide verdict on dissident
Choi Chi-yuk in Changsha, Zhuang Pinghui and Simpson Cheung
The Communist Party's top official in Hunan province has broken his silence on the death of Tiananmen dissident Li Wangyang to reiterate the findings of a recent investigation that ruled it was suicide.
Zhou Qiang, party secretary of the southern province, told visiting Hong Kong reporters in the provincial capital, Changsha : 'The fact that Li committed suicide is crystal clear with verified evidence.'
Li, 62, a physically fragile, nearly blind and deaf dissident who served a total of 21 years behind bars for his activism in Hunan as events unfolded in Beijing during the summer of 1989, was found dead in a hospital ward in Shaoyang on June 6, two days after the 23rd anniversary of the June 4 crackdown.
The official report made public by Hunan authorities on July 12 said Li had torn a strip from a bed sheet which he used to hang himself from the window while his roommate slept.
As part of the investigation into Li's death, Zhou stressed that the Public Security Bureau in Hunan had sought the help of Cong Bin, a vice-chairman of the Chinese Forensic Medicine Association, and other experts.
They led the investigation based on the findings of four pathologists from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou who, authorities said, had performed an autopsy on Li on June 8.
'With the assistance of other experts specialising in criminal investigation, forensic medication and legal science, and after a conscientious and careful investigation in accordance with mainland law, Cong concluded that Li killed himself,' said Zhou, who trained as a legal professional at college.
However, Hu Jia , who with other activists has been collecting documents relating to Li's death, said Zhou's remarks 'defended an investigation that was neither credible nor reliable'.
'Those experts might give truly professional opinions in common criminal cases, but in such a high-profile, political case as Li's their role is to help ensure the credibility of government is not damaged,' said Hu.
He was supported by Liu Weiguo , a lawyer from Shandong province who sent an open letter to China's top legislature seeking a new investigation into the circumstances surrounding Li's death.
'The investigation was not complete and some key parts were missed. The professional qualifications of the experts involved doesn't necessarily mean the investigation was authoritative,' said Liu.
Zhou said none of Hunan's 71 million citizens had the least suspicion about the investigation's results, adding that even Li's relatives, including his younger sister, said they accepted the conclusion.
But Hu said Zhou was turning a blind eye to the fact that Li's family and friends, who were likely to challenge the investigation, had been muzzled. Li's close friend, Zhu Chengzhi , had disappeared and it was suspected he was in detention awaiting criminal investigation.
Tang Jingling , a rights lawyer in Guangdong, said other supporters in Shaoyang were under house arrest and Li's sister had lost contact with other activists.
Zhou, a rising political star long-tipped for further promotion after the party's 18th national congress later this year, has been roundly criticised following Li's death. Zhou sidestepped questions about whether the incident had adversely affected his political career, especially during such a sensitive time in the run-up to the party's once-in-a-decade leadership change.
Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, has hired an Australian forensics expert and will write to the UN to look into the case. 'If [Zhou] was really that high-principled, he should release all the friends and relatives of Li ... if they are not released, that means the authorities still have a guilty conscience,' he said.