Missing Bodies Of Evidence

Find an unexplainably dead peasant in a small Chinese town. Add a strong element of police involvement and a bit of haggling over the corpse. Let news begin to percolate by word-of-mouth, have big-name agencies get into the mix, and let intransigent local cops and cadres try to stand in their way. And there you have the basic recipe for a nationwide media outrage, if not a local riot. Two and a half years ago, there was the uproar over the mysterious drowning of suspected sex solicitor Lu Haixiang. So what will come of the current case of He Yujiang?

Here’s what we know so far about the death late last week of the 47-year old peasant from Hebei, largely courtesy of three reporters from the China News Service:

Nov. 22, A.M.: Police in the Hebei city of Cangzhou summon He Yujiang (何玉江) for questioning on suspicion of theft.

Nov. 24, A.M.: He dies mysteriously at the Xiaowangzhuang police station, well past the 12-hour legal limit for holding someone without pressing formal charges. Police are said to have locked He in the interrogation chamber overnight and returned to find his body the next morningg. Records at the city’s People’s Hospital records describe the cause of death, oh-so-enlighteningly, as “sudden death from cardiac arrest and stoppage of breathing” (link)

Nov. 24-26: Hospital officials say they are not at liberty to offer any further information. The police station chief says the specific cause of death is unclear. The police and the hospital give conflicting accounts of the time and place of death (link)

And then the stream of information runs dry. On trying to chase further, the China News Service reporters, in increasingly typical fashion, filed another piece by way of explaining why they could not:

…At three o’clock in the afternoon on the 26th, outside the morgue at the Cangzhou City People’s Hospital, reporters saw that the way leading to the morgue was sealed off by police. According to relatives of the deceased, during the autopsy, only two members of the family were allowed access to the scene, but they were not permitted to keep any video or photographic record.

When reporters made inquiries outside the police line, police staff questioned the reporters about their identity, and inspected their credentials. Immediately, the police line was pushed out more than 20 meters further. When the reporters did interviews outside this line, Wang Li, the vice-chief of the Yunhe branch of the Cangzhou Public Security Bureau, came forward to stop them. “For you to interview, the city party committee publicity department must approve. Get a letter of introduction from them.”

But when reporters were preparing to leave, Wang and another staff member dressed in plainclothes rushed out from beyond the police line and snatched away reporters’ interview equipment, and pushed and grabbed the reporters. When an onlooker from among the general public used his cell phone to record what was going on, the two men rushed toward the group of people and seized his phone. During the process of seizing it, this person’s watch flung off and his clothing was torn… (link)

Now, according to the latest reports, the provincial public security bureau and procuratorate are both investigating. Which indicates that it sometimes helps for reporters to tittle-tattle about even minor run-ins.

On a more violent note, here’s a bonus piece (in Chinese) from recent days about Xinjiang Television reporters beat up at a sand making factory in Urumqi, on the orders of the branch party secretary there, while trying to investigate a tip that the factory encroached upon land meant to be protected for its water resources. This was the second recorded attack on reporters in Xinjiang this month, Xinhua notes. The first victim was a reporter from Urumqi’s Metropolitan Consumer Morning Post (ÈÉΩÂ∏ÇÊ∂àË¥πÊô®Êä•), who got knocked upside the head while covering a traffic accident.

November 28, 2006, 10:20 AM