Doubts remain after official investigation labels Li Wangyang’s death suicide

31 July 2012

The head of the Communist Party in Hunan has told reporters from Hong Kong that an investigation into the suspicious death of veteran labour activist Li Wangyang in early June had concluded that Li took his own life, the South China Morning Post reported today.

Provincial Party Secretary, Zhou Qiang, claimed the investigation had been conducted by a wide range of forensic, criminal and legal experts and that “the fact that Li committed suicide is crystal clear with verified evidence.”

Zhou claimed that Li’s family accepted the verdict (released on 12 July) but this has not been confirmed because his family and their supporters have been threatened by the authorities, kept under house arrest or disappeared soon after their campaign for justice was launched.

Until all of Li’s family and wide group of supporters are released and allowed to freely express their opinion on the investigation, it is unlikely that many independent observers will accept the report’s findings. Moreover, there are several important questions that the investigation did not even consider such as how Li, 62, ended up virtually deaf and blind and in a very fragile physical state after spending two decades in jail.

Li was first arrested in June 1989 and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment the following year on charges of "counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement" for founding the Shaoyang Workers' Autonomous Federation and leading workers' strikes during the May 1989 pro-democracy movement. 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 left him unable to walk unaided.

After staging the hunger-strike protest, Li was again arrested by the police. 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 continued to fight for justice. He died in a Shaoyang hospital on 6 June 2012.

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