China activist dies in prison, sparking calls for an inquiry

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Originally published by The Guardian in September 28, 2019 

Human rights advocates are calling for an investigation into the death of a Chinese activist who was arrested for holding up a placard calling for Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) to step down.

Wang Meiyu (王美余), 38, was detained in July after he stood outside the Hunan provincial police department holding a sign that called on Xi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) to resign and implement universal suffrage in China.

He was later charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a vague offense often given to dissidents.

According to Wang’s mother and lawyer, he died on Monday.

Wang’s wife, Cao Shuxia (曹曙霞), received a call from police notifying her that her husband had died at a military hospital in the city of Hengyang, where he had been held. The police officer on the telephone did not offer any explanation of the cause of death.

According to Minsheng Guancha, a Chinese human rights group, Cao was later able to see Wang’s body and saw that he was bleeding from his eyes, mouth, ears and nose, and that there were bruises on his face.

“The Chinese government must investigate allegations of torture and the death in detention of human rights activist Wang Meiyu and hold the perpetrators of torture and extrajudicial killing criminally accountable,” Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)said in a statement.

According to Radio Free Asia, Cao said police pressured her to accept their statement that Wang’s death had been an accident, but she refused.

An officer at the Hengyang police station said that he could not comment on the case.

Wang’s mother told reporters that the family has been offered compensation of more than 2 million yuan (US$280,880).

“Giving compensation without an investigation or criminal accountability for the perpetrator is not true redress nor will it effectively prevent torture,” CHRD deputy director of research Frances Eve said.

“Especially when a family has effectively been held hostage and thus likely coerced into giving up claims for investigation for the compensation,” Eve added.

Since Monday, Wang’s family has been placed under house arrest, CHRD said.

He has two young children.

Others connected to his case have also come under pressure.

Late on Wednesday, six armed police detained Xie Yang (謝陽), a rights lawyer, and Chen Yanhui (陳燕), an activist, who had met at a hotel to discuss Wang’s case.

They were released on Thursday.

Wang, who began his work as an activist when his home was forcibly demolished, had been detained and claimed to have suffered torture before.

After he held up the placard calling for Xi’s resignation, he wrote online of how police stormed into his home, ordering him to write a confession letter and a statement promising he would stop.

“These idiots. They can’t understand that even after these years of persecution, including being deprived of water for three days or suffering two hours of electrical needles that caused me to vomit blood, I won’t surrender,” he wrote.

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