Family Questions Probe Into Chinese Official's Death Officials ruled that the death last year of Yang Kuansheng, the vice-mayor of a town in Hunan province, was a suicide. But his family and legal experts cite evidence of foul play and want a new investigation. The case occupies a murky area in which crime and corruption often collide.
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Family Questions Probe Into Chinese Official's Death

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Family Questions Probe Into Chinese Official's Death

Family Questions Probe Into Chinese Official's Death

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

In recent years, several notable stories out of China have sounded eerily familiar: someone dies under murky circumstances, authorities offer an explanation and the public finds the explanation incredible.

From Beijing, NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports on one local official whose death was ruled a suicide but the man's family and legal experts just aren't buying it.

(Soundbite of knocking)

ANTHONY KUHN: The door of a hotel room in northwest Beijing opens to reveal a tearful woman named Liu Yuehong. Last November 26th, her husband Yang Kuansheng, the vice mayor of Wugang City in southern Hunan province, was found dead outside his apartment. The police investigation found that Yang had committed suicide by slashing his wrists and then jumping out the window. The distraught Liu says she believes he was murdered and she came to Beijing to appeal to officials and the media. She angrily points to several officials from Hunan province standing nearby who she claims will not let her leave the hotel. To prove her point, she tries to leave but the officials block her way.

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: The officials insist they're not confining her. They are just concerned for her safety. Hunan officials at various levels declined to comment on the case. Liu retreats to her hotel room to continue her story.

Ms. LIU YUEHONG: (Through Translator) On the night of the 25th, my husband made his last phone call to me. He said two people wanted to kill him. One was Ju Xiaoyang, the vice head of a political and legal committee.

KUHN: 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 itself was riddled with flaws. For one, it came out a day ahead of Yang's autopsy. Beijing-based rights lawyer Teng Biao visited the vice mayor's blood-spattered apartment two weeks after the incident.

Mr. TENG BIAO (Rights Lawyer): (Through Translator) There were two sets of footprints at the scene. One set was pointy-toed. Another set was round-toed, made by cloth shoes. This suggests there were two people in the room.

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

Mr. ZHUO XIAOQIN (Medical Law Expert, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine): (Through Translator) The autopsy found that Yang's radial artery had been completely severed. 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.

KUHN: 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.

Ms. YUEHONG: (Through Translator) My husband had collected evidence of his rival's corruption. He told me he was going to a nearby city to give the evidence to investigators but he was killed the next day.

KUHN: One of the most important pieces of evidence in the case was a blood-spattered suicide note 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. Lawyer Teng Biao says the case of the vice mayor's death suggests that China has a problem with political violence.

Mr. BIAO: (Through Translator) There are many sharp conflicts in officialdom. 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.

KUHN: 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 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 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.

Ms. YUEHONG: (Through Translator) Getting the local police to go investigate is like asking them to slap themselves in the face. 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?

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

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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