Family Questions Probe Into Chinese Official's Death

Liu Yuehong, whose husband died under murky circumstances i i

hide captionLiu Yuehong is the wife of Yang Kuansheng, the late vice-mayor of Wugang city in China's Hunan province. Liu says her husband was murdered by corrupt officials and wants his case reinvestigated.

Anthony Kuhn/NPR
Liu Yuehong, whose husband died under murky circumstances

Liu Yuehong is the wife of Yang Kuansheng, the late vice-mayor of Wugang city in China's Hunan province. Liu says her husband was murdered by corrupt officials and wants his case reinvestigated.

Anthony Kuhn/NPR

Several notable news stories in China in recent years have shared a common element: Someone dies under murky circumstances, authorities offer a hard-to-believe explanation, and public outrage follows.

One case involves a local official whose death was ruled a suicide. The man's family and legal experts suspect foul play.

In November, Yang Kuansheng, the vice-mayor of Wugang city in southern Hunan province, was found dead outside his apartment.

The police investigation determined that Yang had committed suicide by slashing his wrists and then jumping out a window.

But his distraught widow, Liu Yuehong, says she believes her husband was murdered on Nov. 26.

She recently came to Beijing to appeal to officials and the media. At her hotel in northwest Beijing, she angrily pointed to several officials from Hunan province standing nearby, who she said would not let her leave the hotel. To prove her point, she tried to leave, but the officials blocked her way.

Officials said they were not confining her and were just concerned for her safety. Hunan officials at various levels declined to comment on the case.

Problematic Investigation

The tearful Liu retreated to her hotel room and continued her story.

"On the night of the 25th, my husband made his last phone call to me," she recalled. "He said two people wanted to kill him. One was Ju Xiaoyang, the vice head of a political and legal committee."

The official she accuses of involvement in her husband's murder, Ju Xiaoyang, also headed the team that investigated the incident. Liu says the investigation was riddled with flaws. For one, the investigation's conclusions came out a day ahead of Yang's autopsy results.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Teng Biao visited the vice-mayor's blood-splattered apartment two weeks after the incident.

"There were two sets of footprints at the scene," Teng said. "One set was pointy-toed. Another set was round-toed, made by cloth shoes. This suggests there were two people in the room."

Zhuo Xiaoqin, a medical law expert at the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, said that the official investigation made no mention of footprints, fingerprints or the amount of blood in the apartment.

"The autopsy found that Yang's radial artery had been completely severed," Zhuo said. "He suffered a massive, sudden loss of blood. If he lost more than a liter and a half, he would have passed out and been unable to jump out that window."

The official investigation also said that envelopes with money were found in Yang's apartment. His wife believes they were planted. She says that his rivals were out to smear him, and he told her he intended to fight back.

"My husband had collected evidence of his rival's corruption," Liu said. "He told me he was going to a nearby city to give the evidence to investigators. But he was killed the next day."

One of the most important pieces of evidence in the case was a suicide note with drops of blood on it, found in Yang's apartment. It said that he did not want to die, but that his rivals wanted him dead. The official investigation made no mention of the note.

Outrage Over Extralegal Measures

Lawyer Teng Biao says the case of the vice-mayor's death suggests that China has a problem with political violence.

"There are many sharp conflicts in officialdom," Teng said. "They may not be resolvable through legal channels, so some officials may resort to extralegal means. We can't rule out murder as one of them."

Teng adds that China's lack of independent investigations into the causes of citizens' deaths is a serious flaw in its legal system.

Last June, thousands of rioters clashed with police in central Hubei province's Shishou city, after police said that a young hotel chef had committed suicide. Locals believed he was murdered after uncovering a drug racket run by local officials that operated in his hotel.

As for Liu Yuehong, she wants an independent reinvestigation into her husband's case, but she knows it's a long shot.

"Getting the local police to go investigate is like asking them to slap themselves in the face," she said wearily. "They've already said to the media that police at three levels have concluded this was a suicide. If you ask them to reinvestigate, what other result would there be?"

After being interviewed by foreign reporters, Liu said by cell phone text message that officials had forcibly taken her back to Hunan province.

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