Public pressure has forced Chinese officials to investigate the death of labor activist Li Wangyang, who was found hanging from a hospital window on June 6. Local officials in Shaoyang, where he died, changed the cause of his death from “suicide” to “accidental” earlier this week but human rights advocates had been suspicious from the start about officials’ report of the circumstances of Li’s death. Suspicions have increased further after his family members and friends disappeared or were told by police not to speak to the media.
62-year-old Li had spent 21 years in prison for organizing protests in 1989 during the mass pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. He was blind, nearly deaf and unable to walk without assistance after years of beatings and abuse while imprisoned. Shortly before his death, he had given an interview to Hong Kong television.
Adding further doubt to the official report of Li taking his own life were accounts from those who had visited him before his death that noted his continued “feistiness.” Those who knew Li said that he would have left a note explaining his suicide, had such actually occurred.
Li’s sister had been one of the first to find his body hanging from the metal bars of his hospital room window. But, says the New York Times, she was doubtful that he would have been able to tie the noose found around his neck and noted that his feet were still touching the ground. A photograph of what were said to be his feet has circulated on the Internet and added to the outrage.
How far the independent investigation might go is unclear, as Li’s body has already been cremated.
Hong Kong Protesters Call For Investigation of Li’s Death
Putting further pressure on Communist officials is that thousands have demonstrated in Hong Kong on behalf of Li and called for an independent investigation; such calls are headlines in Hong Kong newspapers.
The former British colony is now a special administrative region with greater freedoms than the rest of China. Its chief executive, Donald Tsang, has taken the “rare step of publicly challenging the mainland authorities” by terming Li’s death “suspicious.”
China’s President Hu Jintao is to be in Hong Kong on July 1st for celebrations to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China and some contend that Chinese authorities are saying they will investigate Li’s death only to limit any public protests. Others suggest that the Communist Party is showing its ”sensitivity to public pressure, especially in places like Hong Kong.”
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Photo of Donald Tsang by World Economic Forum