Some 600 protesters gathered in front of a Shanghai district police headquarters this week to demand justice for a local petitioner who they say suffered fatal injuries while in police custody.
Shen Yong, a resident of Shanghai's financial district of Pudong, was taken from his home earlier this month by police. He was released two hours later barely breathing. His son, Shen Yaming, says that he died shortly after.
“My father was beaten to death, I saw his body and the upper side was all covered in bruises,” he said.
Shen Yong had started petitioning after his home was forcibly demolished in 2008. Since earlier this year, he had occupied a vacant lot in the same district where his home had been. Authorities accused him of squatting, and say that the complex owner had repeatedly notified Shen and his family to move out.
On Monday, Shen's friends and other human rights activists went to the Pudong Public Security Bureau to demand authorities investigate allegations of foul play and police brutality in Shen's death. Among them was Kong Lingzhen, who also saw Shen's body and volunteered to report to the police as a witness.
According to activists who were at the rally, police detained about 100 people - including Kong, who is 63 years old and disabled.
“A killing has to be investigated, so I went with them on the 28th. I went to speak with the criminal police and I was attacked, they said they would detain me for ten days,” he said.
Kong said that because of his poor health and high blood pressure, the police released him early the next morning.
Human Rights in China
- a Hong Kong based human rights group - said eight participants were still in police custody on Wednesday. Activists reached in Shanghai confirmed at least four people were being held by police.
Shanghai petitioner Mao Hengfeng also participated in the demonstration. She said that only by actively demanding justice, similar tragedies can be avoided in the future.
“We need each ordinary citizen in China to understand the gravity of a corrupt government that kills a man like this,” she said. “Today they casually kill Shen Yong, but tomorrow it could be us.”
Mao Hengfeng has been active in the Chinese human rights movement for many years, and has a history of challenging the authorities over some of their most controversial practices, including forced abortions and forced demolitions.
She said, as in past incidents, she has been overtly threatened by authorities in this case.
“They told me in so many words: the next to be beaten to death is Mao Hengfeng.”
The Chinese government has set up specific offices and hotlines through which citizens can redress abuses from local governments. But petitioners say the system is designed to fail and a very small number of cases get resolved through the official channel.
Land requisition, forced evictions and unfair compensation are major sources of unrest in China, where there is no privately owned land and local governments rely heavily on land sales for their operating revenues.
Shanghai-based economist and self-taught human rights lawyer Feng Zhenghu said the property development of the city of Shanghai has benefited the interests of the local government and developers, at the expense of residents' rights.
Forced demolitions used to be widespread, he says, and people had little bargaining room to push for a better deal.
“But now large scale development, at least within the city, has pretty much finished,” he said. “The situation is somewhat better now, but if past issues have not been resolved, they will continue to be problems.”
Two days after Shen Yong's death, the Pudong district government information office released a statement saying that Shen became unconscious and died of a sudden illness and the body did not show marks of external injuries.
“Should the family have further demands, they can ascertain the cause of death through an autopsy report,” the statement read.
Shen's son, Shen Yaming, said in an interview with VOA that criminal police from the Pudong district said it will take more than a month to have the final autopsy report.
He said his family will be satisfied if the report shows the truth of what happened, and explains the injuries he saw on his father's body.