News of the suspicious death of a local judge while being detained on corruption charges has found its way into the coverage of Xinhua, China’s official news agency. Li Chaoyang, a judge with the Pingle County Court in China’s southwestern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, was arrested in late March on corruption charges and was being held at the detention center of Xing’an. On the morning of April 2, detention center authorities claimed to have found Li unconscious in his cell and sent him to a hospital where he later died (Xinhua, April 30). Following his death, investigators from the Guilin municipal law enforcement section concluded that Li had died from “Sudden Adult Death Syndrome” that had been prompted by his “unstable state of mind, and abnormal sleeping and eating habits.”
When family members arrived to pick up his body, however, they found a wide gash across his lip, missing and chipped teeth and several bruises on his face, neck and back (Southern Metropolis Daily, April 26). Suspecting that Li had died from being tortured at the detention facility, they called for an additional autopsy and a renewed investigation into his death. Investigators and detention center officials insisted, however, that Li sustained the injuries when he tripped and fell during an attempt to escape from the detention facility. The family members’ suspicions of torture were first covered by Chinese bloggers, whose postings were then picked by “China Court” (Zhongguo Fayuan Wang), an online service (www.chinacourt.org). Pictures of Li’s battered body also appeared on various Chinese blogs and websites, though at the time of publication, it appeared that a number of these pictures have been removed. While the torture of prisoners in China’s detention centers is a fact that has been well-documented by international human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, what is particularly notable about this case is the publicity it has received from the state-controlled press. It seems that soon after Chinese bloggers began to circulate the story, the Chinese press quickly released its own article in an attempt to moderate the coverage of Li’s death and to quash rumors of state-sanctioned torture that might damage the legitimacy of the Chinese government (China Brief, April 18).