Two mainland rights lawyers yesterday urged the government to allow an independent investigation into the death of detained activist Cao Shunli , who died in a Beijing hospital last week after being repeatedly denied medical treatment.
Cao's lawyer, Wang Yu, said in an interview that the authorities must explain the circumstances which led up to her death after six months in detention.
Cao was stopped by police in September while attempting to fly to Geneva to attend the UN's Universal Periodic Review on China. She was brought to a capital detention centre and formally arrested on October 21 on a charge of "picking quarrels and provoking troubles".
Throughout her detention, Cao repeatedly complained to Wang that she had been denied treatment for her various ailments, which included tuberculosis and liver disease, and was even barred from taking the medication she had with her.
Still, Wang was surprised by Cao's rapid decline in health since she last saw her client alive on January 28. Cao looked thin and fatigued, but did not appear in grave danger, Wang said.
By the time authorities sent Cao to a military hospital on February 20, she was already in a coma and in need of intensive care. She died last Friday.
"In just around 20 days, her condition deteriorated so rapidly and badly - why?" Wang said. "We suspect that something has happened to her and we need a reasonable explanation."
Cao's brother said his sister's body appeared bruised and swollen when he visited the hospital after her death, according to Wang. The skin on Cao's shoulders looked dark and scaly. Her brother could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Teng Biao, a lawyer who represented Cao when she was sent to re-education through labour in 2010, said the denial of medical care amounted to inhumane treatment that breached the UN Convention Against Torture, which China has signed and ratified.
In June, Cao and other activists launched a two-month sit-in outside the foreign ministry to press the government to allow activists to contribute to its human rights report to the UN. Wang said Cao later submitted her own report to the UN - an act that likely angered authorities.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon this week joined the US and Europe in expressing concern over Cao's death. The Chinese foreign ministry on Monday denied that she died due to the lack of medical care.