Li Wangyang on Hunger Strike

(Originally published in CLB Issue #58, Jan-Feb 2001)

Li Wangyang's contribution to the struggle for labour rights in China

is huge and he has paid a high price for his efforts. He received an 13-year sentence in 1989 for his role in organising Workers's Autonomous Federations in the province of Hunan, although this was by no means the first time he had challenged the authorities to recognise independent workers' organisations.

While imprisoned during the 1990s, Li was severely beaten by prison guards and emerged from prison in 2000 in extremely poor health. He had contracted a severe eye illness and had lost weight and height. In February this year (2001) he staged a hunger strike, demanding that the government accept responsibility for the health problems he contracted in prison and cover his medical costs, which he is otherwise unable to afford.

The Shaoyang City government has ignored his demands. On the twentieth day of his  hunger strike, Li Wangyang accepted the collective decision of a meeting attended by Hunan labour and democracy activists and called off his strike on February 20th. CLB spoke to his sister Li Wangling about her brother's decision to call off the hunger strike. Li:Yesterday was my brother's twentieth day on hunger strike and he was in extremely poor shape. Friends and colleagues from the democratic movement, including Li Zhenan, Li Zhanming and ten others, convened a meeting and decided on a three point plan of action:

1. To send representatives to negotiate with the government.

2. Attempt to persuade Li Wangyang to call off his hunger strike and
save his life.

3. Appoint a person to supervise and urge hospital authorities to provide
Li with adequate medical facilities.

The same day Li Zhanming, others and myself went to negotiate with the government, but failed to make any progress and the discussions petered out. Although he was facing defeat, my brother Li Wangyang accepted the situation saying that he would attempt to regain his health and then take up the struggle for justice again. I will continue to take responsibility for my brother's livelihood. Since the 1970s, my brother and the democracy and labour activists who are supporting him now have struggled for change. In the 1970s, they organised the Shaoyang City Zi Jiang Ming bao Society; in 1983, the Shaoyang Autonomous Workers's Association and in 1989, the Workers' Autonomous Federations.

They have been active together for over 20 years.

CLB: They are taking a major risk in speaking out now. Have there been any warnings from the police?Li:I am not sure. All our efforts are currently directed at saving my brother.

CLB:What is Li Wangyang's current medical situation?

Li:The critical stage has passed. His sight is very blurred from the illness he contracted in prison. Before he went into prison he was 1.83 metres tall, now his height is down to 1.73 metres and he weighs just 94 pounds.

CLB then telephoned the Shaoyang City Judicial Department to inquire what the legal situation was regarding Li Wangyang's demand for medical compensation.

Judiciary: If he wants the government to cover his future medical costs, he is probably pushing the boundaries a bit far.

CLB: Why? Does the government not have the funds to cover the costs?

Judiciary: Well the financial implications are important. In fact, I haven't come across any written rules on this kind of case.

CLB: Isn't the fault with the judiciary then?

Judiciary: To an extent. My feelings are that regardless of the political background to the case, the man has already been punished and there ought to be provisions for the government to assist him given the nature of the problem.

CLB: The government has ignored him so far.

Judiciary: Then this is wrong. We need to investigate further. I have already taken down the details you have given me and will pass them on to the government.

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