21 October 2016
The emergency room in Changping where Lei Yang was taken by police, who say he died in hospital at 10:55 p.m. Saturday. A doctor at the hospital says Lei was dead on arrival at 10:09 p.m. Photo: internet
The emergency room in Changping where Lei Yang was taken by police, who say he died in hospital at 10:55 p.m. Saturday. A doctor at the hospital says Lei was dead on arrival at 10:09 p.m. Photo: internet

Man’s death in custody prompts suspicions of police brutality

An internet storm has been brewing in mainland China over the death of Lei Yang, 29, a native of Hunan province, in police custody.

Lei left his Beijing home between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday to pick up a relative from the airport.

Shortly afterward, he was detained by police.

By 10:09 p.m., he was dead.

How Lei died remain unknown.

Lei had seemed to be doing well, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing an anonymous online post by a university classmate.

In 2009, Lei earned a master’s degree at Beijing’s prestigious Renmin University.

Shortly before his death, he celebrated his third wedding anniversary. Two weeks before that, his wife gave birth to a girl.

The relative arriving at the airport was coming into town to see the baby, said the online post, which was widely cited by Chinese media.

Lei’s classmate said he or she spoke with Lei’s family members after his death, and that they saidthey had tried calling him at 11:30 p.m. but couldn’t get through.

The family received a call from police at 1 a.m. and hurried to the station.

What police told them didn’t add up: Lei had visited prostitutes, was detained in a bust and died of a “heart attack” while on his way to the station.

The family arrived at the hospital at 4 a.m. to see Lei’s body and found his arms and forehead covered in bruises.

Police prevented them from taking photos of the body.

The online post has since been deleted.

On Monday night, police in Changping, on the outskirts of Beijing, posted a different story on their official Sina Weibo microblog.

The post said Lei visited a brothel that was disguised as a foot massage parlor. Police raided it and arrested six people, including Lei.

When Lei “was brought back to the local police station for further investigation, he resisted law enforcement and attempted to flee”, the post said.

“Police took measures to forcefully constrain him.

“During the investigation, he suddenly fell ill. Police immediately sent him to the hospital, and he died at the hospital.”

A doctor at the Changping Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine told state broadcaster China Central TV that Lei entered the hospital at 10:09 p.m., dead on arrival.

The Changping police department’s post received more than 15,500 comments, many of which expressed skepticism at the official version of events.

The police never mentioned the name or location of the foot massage parlor, internet users noted.

Many questioned why police waited for two hours before informing Lei’s family of his death.

Lei’s brother Lei Peng declined to comment on Wednesday, telling Radio Free Asia the family is likely under close police surveillance.

“It’s not convenient for me to tell you anything right now, and there have been no new developments,” he said, using phrasing that suggests he was in the company of police officers.

Chinese news website cited eyewitnesses as saying that Lei Yang was seen “screaming for help” as he was pursued in a residential compound by several plainclothes officers.

When Lei’s friends demanded to see surveillance footage from the police station, they were told that the cameras were “all broken” and that the surveillance footage was gone, RFA said.

Meanwhile, former investigative journalist Li Jianjun said the timeline of events leading up to Lei’s being pronounced dead at 10.55 p.m., as the police version of the story said, didn’t seem credible.

“I don’t think he could have been visiting prostitutes, because there wasn’t enough time,” Li said.

“He left home at 9 p.m., after which he was supposed to have had time to visit a prostitute, get arrested, be interrogated, and … be taken to hospital [by 10.05 p.m.].”

“How would he have the time to fit all of that in?”

“Individuals’ fears of going out will not be assuaged until the death of Lei Yang is thoroughly investigated and clearly explained,” the LA Times quoted Yin Hong, deputy dean of Tsinghua University’s School of Journalism and Communication, as saying.

“If officials fail to clarify [what happened], it will be unavoidable that people will question the government’s authority.”

Police brutality is a major issue in mainland China, the newspaper said.

Officials have given several unlikely explanations for “accidental” deaths in police custody in recent years.

In 2009, police in southwest China arrested a man on suspicion of illegal logging, and he died in jail.

Police said he died while “playing hide and seek”.

Later, an investigation found that another prisoner beat him to death.

The term “playing hide and seek” has become a euphemism for cover-ups of police brutality.

Also in 2009, police in Jiangxi province said a prisoner died “after having a nightmare”.

Family members later saw his body and noticed bruises on his forehead.

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