A year after girl's death, dad still seeks answers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 June, 2009, 12:00am

A year has passed since the suspicious death of his daughter, but Li Xiuhua feels no closer to justice today than he did in the aftermath.

Li Shufen was found in a river in Guizhou's Wengan county on June 21, 2008. The official report gave the cause of death as drowning, but rumours began spreading among local residents tired of their corrupt leaders: the 17-year-old, it was claimed, had been raped and killed by three young men before being dumped in the river, and authorities were protecting them.

On June 28, matters came to a head when at least 30,000 people - the vast majority with no connection to the girl - vented their anger at the local government. Pictures of the government headquarters and public security bureau being torched spread across the country on mobile phones and the internet, giving rise to a nationwide outcry.

Mr Li says his belief that his daughter did not kill herself has not wavered despite continuous pressure from authorities.

'I can't accept the government's opinion that my daughter committed suicide by throwing herself into the river,' Mr Li said angrily. 'I can recall the cuts on my poor daughter's face and body as clearly as when she was brought out of the water.'

Mr Li has been barred from talking to the media. He said a Japanese reporter travelled to the village a few days before the Olympics, but was told to leave.

'There were at least 10 officials sent to my village to keep a close eye on me,' he said, adding that things relaxed from late November. 'They set up a checkpoint at the village entrance and didn't allow reporters to pass ... They deprived me of my right to voice my grievances to the media.'

Mr Li said his demand for an autopsy report was rejected by a forensic pathologist the local government assigned. 'How am I supposed to be convinced by the outcome without access to any evidence?'

The incident in Wengan was brought back into the spotlight last weekend by a protest in Shishou, Hubei province. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets after chef Tu Yuangao, 24, was found dead in a street outside a hotel that was known as a place where officials took drugs.

Officials claimed he had jumped out of a window and committed suicide, but marks on his body suggested otherwise. Rumours spread that he had been killed after threatening to reveal the hotel's secret unless he received back pay. When police tried to remove the body, the protesters formed a human wall. It took three days - and 1,000 armed police - for authorities finally to seize it.

Nine suspects were detained over Li Shufen's death, but there had been no news, her father complained.

'No one told us whether they were tried and sentenced,' he said.

But worse than the lack of news is the intimidation. Mr Li said local cadres had hinted that his attempts to petition would harm his son's college entrance exam results. He admitted that this warning had made him hesitate whether to sue the local government, in addition to his concerns over the cost.

A farmer, Mr Li said he had received 30,000 yuan (HK$34,000) in funeral subsidies. 'Please don't talk about money. I simply want the truth. One thing is for sure: what the local administration claimed happened isn't even close to the truth.'