06/07/2012, 00.00
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China, one of the Tiananmen Square leaders hanged under surveillance

Family and friends of Li Wangyang, trade unionist and leader of 1989 democracy protests, point to the police who instead speak of "suicide". The man has spent 21 years in prison, and last month he said: "I will never set aside my desire for democracy and the rule of law in China." In prison he had been systematically tortured by the police.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - A Democratic activist from Hunan, who has spent 21 years in prison for his involvement  in Tiananmen Square protests and his commitment to the rights of Chinese workers, was found dead yesterday morning in mysterious circumstances in a hospital in Shaoyang. The family, friends and fellow dissident Li Wangyang (62) refuse to believe the statements of police that the man  hanged himself.

According to the testimony of his loved ones, Li - who was tortured in jail, resulting in his becoming blind and bedbound  - " was animated by a fighting spirit and wanted  the authorities to overturn the official verdict on the 1989 movement." Beijing has called the protests "counter-insurgency". Because of the anniversary of the massacre, which falls on June 4, the government had imposed a 24 hr escort  on them.

Zhu Chengzi, activist and friend of Li since school days,  visited him  last on June 4: "We talked a little, although he was not in good health. He had to be hospitalized but was optimistic. I do not think it is suicide because he was the kind of man who does not kill anything, not even with a knife at his neck. "

In an interview last month for Hong Kong Cable TV, the activist said he did not want to give up his fight for democracy and the rule of law in China. Now the family is preparing to fight for truth and justice from authorities after his death. An anonymous source said: "We demand a proper autopsy: we do not even know when he died, and we do not know whether it was suicide or murder." Police have prevented relatives from photographing the body of them and took them out of the hospital by force.

Li, a trade unionist since the early 1980s, spent 13 years in prison on charges of being a "counterrevolutionary" for leading an independent federation of workers in Shaoyang during the events of 1989. After his release in 2000 for medical reasons, he was sentenced to another 10 years for "subversion" before his death, he was considered one of the political prisoners linked to Tiananmen hardest hit by government repression.

During his time in prison, as confirmed by several witnesses, he was tortured in a systematic way. Despite the various claims against it, the Communist government has never serious sought to eliminate the abuse of prisoners: particularly harsh torture is used against political prisoners and those related to the world of religions.

In March 2006, Manfred Nowak, chief  UN investigator on torture, made a rare visit inside some Chinese prisons. Although he avoided the provinces most at risk, such as Xinjiang, the official wrote a report denouncing "the widespread use of torture in all prisons in China" [see. UN anti-torture agency calls for radical court, police reforms]



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