Family demands truth behind teen's death

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 April, 2010, 12:00am

A farmer is battling Foxconn Technology Group, which makes parts for Apple's iPads and iPhones, over the suspicious death of his teenage son in a Shenzhen factory.

Ma Zishan, 58, says the wounds on the body of Ma Xiangqian, 18, suggest he had been beaten to death, though local police have ruled out homicide.

Xiangqian is among four young Foxconn workers who have died this year. Two other workers were severely injured in suicide attempts.

The Ma family's repeated requests to see closed-circuit television footage from the building where Xiangqian died have been denied. So have their requests to read the reports of the first two examinations of the body performed by coroners.

'I cried my eyes out as he was my only son,' said Ma, who planted evergreen trees in a village in Xuchang , Henan province. 'I regret letting my son join the wrong factory. I'll regret it for the rest of my life.'

Xiangqian, who joined the company in November, was found dead at 4.50am on January 23 in a dormitory building in a Guanlan plant, which Foxconn says is its training centre in southern China. He is survived by his parents and three sisters.

Coroners conducted two examinations in January and an autopsy in February. The police of Baoan , where Guanlan is located, concluded that Xiangqian had died of a fall from a height.

But the family pointed to body wounds and seemingly edited CCTV footage of the dormitory entrances.

The day after his death, family members were allowed to look at the body at a funeral home, but only from a distance. They noticed many cuts on the neck and side of the body.

On January 26, they were allowed to watch at close range as a coroner examined the body. They saw a silver piece of metal in Xiangqian's shoulder and four small holes in the back of his head, which had been shaved for the examination, said Ma Zishan and one of his daughters, Ma Liqun. There was a similar hole in one of Xiangqian's lower legs, they said.

The holes appeared to have been caused by nails, they said.

The family were also allowed to watch an electronic copy of CCTV footage of the building's entrances on a computer at the Songyuan police station in Guanlan. They spent more than 20 days poring over 50 hours of video taken between January 21 and 23.

They said a 52-minute clip had been edited out, leaving a gap from 5.03pm to 5.55pm on January 22. The gap followed a scene where a man holding what looked like an iron pipe was climbing the stairs with another man to the third floor, where Xiangqian lived.

'The missing clip may offer important clues to how my brother died,' Ma Liqun said. She noted that the rest of the footage had at least 115 other gaps of two to four seconds. Foxconn rejected their requests to watch the original CCTV footage, and Songyuan police refused to let them see the first two coroners' reports.

Foxconn said it was a sudden death after Xiangqian fainted. The firm provided a number of employees to back the claim as witnesses.

Ma Liqun said the story contradicted the police's conclusion that Xiangqian died of a fall from a height. The police said no homicide was involved but did not reveal what caused the fall or whether it was a suicide.

Xiangqian told his family in November that he had to operate a drill in a workshop without wearing protective goggles and gloves. His hands and the corners of his eyes were badly burned, Ma Liqun said. He also told them that he was forced to clean the workshop and a toilet, she said.

She quit her job at Foxconn after her brother's death. She is staying on in Guanlan with her parents and boyfriend to investigate the tragic event. The four share a small room rented for 160 yuan (HK$182) a month.

Foxconn spokesman Edmund Ding could not be reached for comment. Calls to his office on Thursday and Friday went unanswered and he did not respond to an e-mailed inquiry. Since July, deaths and suicides have been plaguing the Taiwan-based company, which employs about 400,000 people in Shenzhen.