Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Netizens join probe into 'hide-and-seek' prison death

A 15-member investigation team arrived in Jinning County in southwest China's Yunnan Province Friday to probe the death of a man in police custody, which local police had said was an accident caused by "hide-and-seek" game by inmates.

Li Qiaoming, 24, of Yuxi City, was detained in Jinning on Jan. 30 for felling trees without authorization. He was hospitalized on Feb. 8 and died four days later from severe brain injuries.

The Jinning public security bureau said Friday Li was fatally injured while playing hide-and-seek with other inmates, one of whom supposedly reacted angrily when his hiding place was uncovered by Li.

According to the bureau, Li was kicked, punched on the head and struck an iron bar as he fell.

Li's parents and many netizens said they found the official account hard to believe. A story about the incident appeared in a local newspaper in the provincial capital of Kunming on Feb. 13.

"I've never heard of such a funny joke," said Liu Yun, a netizen from Kunming, on the www.163.com forum.

A 15-member truth-finding committee with five netizens, three reporters (including one from Xinhua), four public security and prosecutors' staff, two company employees and a college student, went to the Jinning Detention House affiliated with the county public security bureau on Friday.

Zhao Li, who writes a popular blog under the name Fengzhimoduan, and Dong Rubin, better known as the blogger Bianmin, were director and deputy director respectively of the committee.

The committee members held talks with officials from the Jinning county government, public security bureau and county procuratorate on Friday morning.

The inmates were forbidden to play games without permission. "Hide-and-seek" was purely an entertainment and they did it by themselves, said Yan Guodong, deputy head of the county public security bureau.

Jin Huayong, who allegedly kicked and punched Li, had no record of violence in the prison. "We will turn him over to the procuratorate after Li's autopsy report is done," said Yan.

The committee members visited cell number 9 room, which Li Qiaoming had occupied, at about 1 p.m. and studied documents on his personal details and behavior in the prison and his death certificate.

They held a news briefing at 2:40 p.m. at Sanhe Grand Hotel to discuss their findings.

"We're satisfied with the police attitude towards our investigation," said Fengzhimoduan.

"I am not a professional investigator. It's hard for us to discover the truth. But we're doing our best to establish the truth today," he said.

"The Internet magnified the incident," he added.

The Yunnan Provincial Publicity Department posted a notice on major Yunnan-based websites Thursday afternoon, seeking people to join in the investigation. About 510 people called or applied online.

"It's the first time in Yunnan, and even in China, for netizens to participate in an official investigation like this," said Gong Gei, a provincial publicity department official.

(Xinhua News Agency)