Relatives of a Tiananmen Square protest veteran have been detained by police after raising concerns that he died in strange circumstances, a human rights group has said.
Li Wangyang (李旺陽) was found dead in a hospital ward in Shaoyang, central Hunan Province, on Wednesday, two days after the anniversary of the brutal crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy protests. He had a noose around his neck and local officials said he had killed himself.
However, thousands of people have signed an online petition calling for an investigation into his death after relatives said his feet were on the floor when he was found and questioned whether he was physically able to hang himself given his ill health.
Li, 62, had spent more than 22 years in jail for his role in the protests in Beijing, but was released last year. He was blind, had severe hearing difficulties and was being treated for poor health.
Human Rights in China (HRIC) said police had taken Li’s sister Li Wangling (李旺玲) and her husband, Zhao Baozhu (趙寶珠), to a hotel and were holding them there, citing an unnamed source.
Earlier this week, Zhao told the Los Angeles Times: “[Li Wangyang] could barely hold a bowl without his hands shaking ... how could this happen when there were security guards watching him?”
The source told the group police had agreed to delay the cremation of Li Wangyang’s body and allow the couple to watch the postmortem. However, they have been unable to contact Guangzhou rights lawyer Tang Jingling (唐荊陵), since hiring him.
“HRIC is deeply concerned about the safety of Li’s sister and brother-in-law and urges that the authorities immediately restore their personal freedom and ensure the right of Li’s family to retain legal representation of their own choosing,” the group said in a statement.
Calls to police in Shaoyang were not answered.
Li Wangyang was jailed for instigating counter-revolutionary propaganda after co-founding the Labor Autonomous Union to support the student protestors in 1989. When released in 2000 he sued for compensation — earning himself another lengthy sentence.
In his last interview, with Hong Kong cable television, Li Wangyang described being tortured, but said he had never regretted supporting the students.
“For democracy and the survival of the country, the ordinary man should take responsibility,” he said.