BEIJING — An ailing Chinese labor activist imprisoned for two decades died in a hospital Wednesday one year after being released from jail, and a relative raised doubt on the official explanation that he had hanged himself.
Li Wangyang had advocated for independent labor unions in central China's Hunan province and was caught in the sweeping nationwide crackdown on all forms of dissent after the Tiananmen Square democracy protests were quashed in 1989.
Brother-in-law Zhao Baozhu said he was suspicious about Li's death because the activist had never expressed a desire to kill himself despite spending 20 years in prison and being very sick. He said that Li had seemed normal over dinner the previous night.
"He was always very strong, there was no sign at all that he was thinking of killing himself," Zhao told The Associated Press. "Even though he had so many illnesses and spent more than 20 years in jail, he never talked about suicide. So I don't believe it."
Li was already dead by the time Zhao got to the hospital in Shaoyang city on Wednesday morning after being notified of Li's death by the facility. He was 62.
Li was on his feet next to his bed in a hospital, with a white strip of cloth tied tightly around his neck and connected to a window bar above, Zhao said.
His brother-in-law did not cite other reasons for his doubts Li committed suicide, but some activists, looking at photos on the Internet of Li's hanging, said they thought it was unusual that his feet were touching the ground.
Phones rang unanswered at the Daxiang District People's Hospital, where Li was being treated for illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, failing eyesight and hearing.
Li was arrested for his labor activism on June 9, 1989, five days after the bloody military crackdown on protesters in Beijing's Tiananment Square. Sentenced for "counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement," he spent much of his 11-year term at hard labor.
The subsequent, 10-year sentence for inciting subversion centered on his demands for government help for health problems caused by beatings and mistreatment in prison.
During his first prison term, Li was held in solitary confinement at times and beaten so badly that he had to be hospitalized, according to Human Rights in China.
Li's death was being mourned on Twitter by various activists, including prominent rights lawyer Teng Biao, who posted a picture of calligraphy scrolls he dedicated to Li that said: "An inch of blood for an inch of freedom, thousands of miles of rivers bring thousands of miles of woes."
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