Case of Death in Police Custody Still Alive 10 Years On

May 15, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015
A family photo of a younger Zhang Yanmei. (Courtesy of family)
A family photo of a younger Zhang Yanmei. (Courtesy of family)

A case of apparent police brutality resulting in the death of a young woman was revealed on Chinese Internet forums recently. The case reflects the struggle of many Chinese to obtain justice in a system that allows no real channels of redress for the disenfranchised, who face frequent and unchecked abuse of power by the authorities.

On Dec. 20, 1998, the then 20-year-old Zhang Yanmei was arrested for alleged prostitution, after having quit college to look for work two months previously. She was reported to have died in police custody six hours after arrest.

Ms. Zhang’s story is told in a post on an electronic bulletin board, signed by her father and elder brother, along with a phone number. The original post has been duplicated widely. The Epoch Times spoke to her elder brother by telephone.

The following day an official who worked in Fenjie Town, where Ms. Zhang was arrested, delivered the news to her father, saying that she died in the interrogation room in the police station. “The forensic medical expert concluded that she hung herself using her shirt. She committed suicide because she felt ashamed,” the official said, according to the online account.

Ms. Zhang’s brother-in-law went to the hospital with the father and saw her body. There was blood in Zhang’s nose, her face was swollen and with mud on it, and she had wounds on her throat, ears, back, and chest.

Ms. Zhang’s family, in particular her father and brother, have not stopped in the attempt to gain justice over past ten years, but the efforts have been in vain. Ms. Zhang’s elder brother explained that the late appearance of the information online was because they did not have a computer before.

Hush money refused

In the statement online, Ms. Zhang’s father claimed that a police official delivered 5,000 yuan in cash to his house on Dec. 24, 1998, and asked him to keep quiet. He refused, “My daughter committed no crime. She was beaten to death. How could she hang herself with the police around? Is there a special place in the police station for committing suicide? Why were the police so eager to cremate her body?”

According to the family, Ms. Zhang’s ashes are still in the police station for “safe keeping,” and they have not seen the death certificate or coroner’s report, despite repeated requests.

Ms. Zhang’s older brother, Zhang Yafu, did his own investigation. He alleges that the police also tortured the wife of Ms. Zhang’s employer to extort a confession. The wife, who was arrested at the same time as Ms. Zhang, told him: “They were ruthless. Had I not admitted that I was prostituting, I too would have died from the beating.”

Local police told Mr. Zhang that his online post was illegal, but it has not been purged by China’s army of Internet censors.

Mr. Zhang told The Epoch Times that on March 24, 2010, three police officers from the Gaozhou City Public Safety Bureau came to Guangzhou and tracked him down for questioning. A week ago, the police talked to his mother and asked her who posted the article online. “I don’t think that I can go back to Gaozhou anymore. My parents would worry about my safety if I did. No lawyer wants to take my sister’s case,” Mr. Zhang said.

Read the original Chinese article