Li Wangyang, a veteran labour activist who was only released from a ten year prison term last year, was found dead, hanging from a window in his hospital room, on 6 June; his family told the media yesterday.
Li’s brother-in-law, Zhao Baozhu told Human Rights in China that the hospital in Shaoyang, Hunan, claimed that Li had committed suicide but:
When my wife and I went to visit Li yesterday evening our conversation was very normal; we didn't see any indication that he was thinking of suicide. The authorities had begun sending people there to monitor him on 22 May.
As news of his death spread, Li’s supporters and fellow activists began an online petition to demand a full and independent autopsy. The petition quickly garnered nearly 3,000 signatures.
Li had spent much of the last 23 years in prison. He was first arrested in June 1989 after founding the Shaoyang Workers' Autonomous Federation and organizing strikes during the 1989 pro-democracy movement. He was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment the following year on charges of "counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement."
He was released in June 2000, but in February 2001, he staged a 22-day hunger strike in an attempt to obtain medical compensation for injuries to his back, heart and lungs that he had sustained while in prison, and which reportedly left him unable to walk unaided. His eyesight is also seriously impaired. Li was arrested again after this protest. On 5 September 2001, he was tried in secret by the People's Intermediate Court of Shaoyang on the charge of "incitement to subvert state power" and sentenced to a further 10 years' imprisonment.
He was released on 5 May 2011 but with four years depravation of political rights. He was reportedly closely monitored by the police and was under constant surveillance after being admitted to hospital.