Former students call for full inquiry into ‘suspicious’ death of Beijing university alumnus in police custody

Alumni at Renmin University say police version of Lei Yang’s death after his arrest is ‘unconvincing’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2016, 4:09pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 May, 2016, 12:06am

A group of former students from a top university in Beijing is calling for a thorough investigation into the death of a graduate following his arrest for allegedly soliciting a prostitute.

Public pressure and suspicions over the death of Lei Yang in the capital over the weekend are mounting, prompted by differing police accounts of the arrest and a lack of an explanation over how the man died.

An online petition launched by alumni at Renmin University, where Yang, 29, graduated with a master’s degree in environmental science in 2009, said the authorities’ claim he died while trying to escape arrest by plain-clothes police officers was unconvincing.

“It is hard to believe that Yang, as a father of a newborn, would solicit prostitution while heading to the airport [to fetch a relative],” the petition said.

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“And the handling of prostitution cases should be done by uniformed officers who bear a proper police badge ... but the police in Changping district did not do that. It’s shocking.”

According to the website of People’s Daily, road surveillance cameras captured Lei leaving his house at 9pm on Saturday and arriving at the neighbourhood where he is alleged to have solicited a prostitute four minutes later. He left the area after a further 10 minutes.

A statement released by the Changping district public security bureau in Beijing said Lei was seen by plain-clothes officers leaving a foot massage parlour at 9.14pm on Saturday.

It said Lei attempted to escape and resist arrest and that he bit an officer and destroyed a hand-held camera.

Lei was restrained and taken to a police vehicle, but he climbed from the back to the front seat before opening the car door and escaping, the statement added.

He was caught again at 9.45pm and put in handcuffs.

On the way back to a police office, Lei fell ill and was rushed to a nearby hospital at 10.05pm for emergency treatment. He died at 10.55pm, the statement said.

His family was not notified of his death until midnight. They were allowed to see the body at 4.30am and found multiple bruises and injuries, but were barred from taking photographs.

Media reports claimed Lei’s smartphone had been tampered with and its location records over the past week erased.

Police said they arrested five other people at the foot massage parlour who gave evidence that Lei had paid 200 yuan (HK$240) for the services of a sex worker. Beijing TV also aired a confession by one of the foot massage workers saying she had performed a sex act on Lei.

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The case has drawn massive attention and Changping police are facing increasing criticism.

Prominent criminal lawyer Chen Youxi said Changping police should withdraw from the investigation and hand it over to others as they appeared to have broken the law themselves.

“Even if Lei really did pay for a prostitute’s service, he would still not be a criminal. In China, there is no such offence as soliciting prostitutes,” Chen said. “One could be placed under security detention for soliciting prostitutes [which is liable for administrative punishment], but plain-clothes police should carry the appropriate paperwork [to make arrests].”

Internet users have found documents from the manufacturer of the hand-held surveillance camera used by police, questioning claims Lei broke it by knocking it out of an officer’s hand. The camera cannot be destroyed unless dropped “from 3.3 metres or higher”, the documents claim.

In subsequent interviews with People’s Daily, officers handling Lei’s case changed their account, saying officers used mobile phones to film the arrest, not a hand-held surveillance camera.

Xing Yongrui, deputy chief for Dongxiaokou police office in Changping, said Lei had destroyed a phone and it had taken 20 minutes for several plain-clothes officers to apprehend Lei.

Xing said Lei jumped from the police car while it was stationary, landing with his feet first.

“After we brought him back to the vehicle, Lei stopped resisting and we were returning to the office when we discovered he was feeling ill and rushed him to a hospital instead,” Xing said.