After being found hanged in a hospital in central China, activists demand to know what really happened to the 62-year-old who saw it as his mission to fight for the democratization of his country.
All eyes are on China's human rights record after 62-year-old dissident Li Wangyang was found dead at a hospital In Shaoyang, central China, on Thursday.
New York-based Human Rights in China (HRIC) reported that Li's sister and brother-in-law had found him in the hospital ward strung up to a windowsill with bandages around his neck. His feet were reportedly touching the ground. According to eyewitness accounts, 40 police officers immediately stormed into the hospital and removed his body, raising concerns over an accurate assessment of the cause of death.
Authorities have blamed his death on suicide. Li's friends and family, however, do not believe this to be possible and suspect foul play, especially because his feet were touching the ground when he was found.
'No indication' of suicidal tendencies
Up to his death, Li was also heavily guarded. Zhang Shanguang, Li's close friend from prison, told DW there was "no indication whatsoever" that Li had suicidal tendencies.
"Right up to his death, he was acting normal. He showed great interest in the situation in Syria. There was no indication whatsoever that he wanted to take his own life," Zhang said.
Chinese authorities did agree on Thursday to allow an autopsy of his body. But skeptics like Zhang question the authenticity of the autopsy that is to be carried out. He said the authorities were only allowing it to deter negative attention.
"The local government is probably worried that Li Wangyang will turn into another Chen Guangcheng," Zhang told DW. "Because that would put the Chinese government in a bad light."
China of late has drawn negative international attention after the high-profile and widely-reported case of Chen Guangcheng, who caused a diplomatic row between the US and China after escaping from house arrest over a month ago to the US embassy in Beijing.
Like Chen Guangcheng, Li Wangyang was no stranger to the Chinese penal system. He spent 22 years in jail after first being sentenced to 13 years imprisonment - 11 of which he served - for supporting trade unions in the 1989 student uprising. In 2001 he was sentenced again to 10 years in prison for filing a lawsuit for maltreatment while in prison - jail conditions, he claimed, were so bad that they left him nearly blind and deaf and in overall poor health.
All for his country
His poor health is the reason he had been in the hospital at the time of his death. Li's close friend, Li Zheng'an, told Hong Kong Cable TV:
"Whenever I see him, I feel bad … really bad. A healthy person being tortured to death. Why? Because he cared about the future of his country?"
Many people were arrested in the student movement in 1989. And many others were killed in the infamous Tiananmen Square Massacre. In his last interview taken by Hong Kong Cable TV on May 24 this year, Li said he had felt obligated to take part in the movement back then. "I wanted to do my part to turn China into a democratic society."
"Many people were killed in the massacre. But I only had to go to jail," Li continued. "But I haven't been killed. Even if I were killed, I wouldn't regret a thing. I have a responsibility to fight for the democratization of my country, to see the introduction of a multiple party system as soon as possible. And not even death can stop me."
Activists demand a full investigation into his death.
Author: Sarah Berning (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Shamil Shams