Mysterious Death Sparks 70,000 to Protest in China’s Hubei Province
The mysterious cause of the death of a young man who fell from the third floor of a hotel in China’s Hubei province on Wednesday has prompted as many as 70,000 people to attempt to bar the police from taking the young man’s body away.
Local authorities have mobilized thousands of riot police to cope with the chaos. The public’s reaction appears to have been sparked by outrage at what is believed to be a case of corruption, torture, and murder.
Around 3 p.m. on June 20 a Public Security Office statement was released on the official Web site of Shishou City that says the corpse of a man was discovered in front of the entrance of the local Yonglong Grand Hotel on June 17.
The deceased was the hotel’s 24-year-old chef Tu Yuangao, who the statement says had left a letter expressing his pessimism and decision to commit suicide. The preliminary medical examination, according to the statement, sees no other fatal wounds on the body and has ruled out the possibility of murder.
According to the statement, the police’s attempt to remove the body for autopsy has been rejected by the man’s relatives, adding that many people who do not know the true story have gathered around the hotel, jammed traffic, and caused much commotion.
Eyewitnesses are raising serious doubts about the credibility of the police account.
According to China’s bloggers, those who witnessed the fall of the man and reported it to the police said they did not see any blood stain on the ground where the body landed. Instead, they found blood clots around the deceased’s mouth, nose, and ears. The lower part of body showed signs of severe torture, they said.
Relatives of the deceased have reportedly tried to contact the owner of the hotel in vain. It is said that on June 18, they were finally promised RMB 35,000 ($5,200) as compensation on condition that they confirm suicide as the cause of death; otherwise, the body would be forcibly taken away that evening for cremation.
The deceased’s father rejected the offer and had cans of chemicals that he said he would use to kill himself and anyone who tried to seize the body.
According to a message reposted on the Hong Kong People Report Web site, when the police arrived around 1 a.m. on June 19 with a hearse to remove the body, over 2,000 people had gathered around the hotel to stop them.
The message says that by 8 a.m. there were banners and petition letters posted outside the hotel. Over 2,000 people completely blocked the area in front of the hotel to prevent police access. During the police attempts to break through the blockade, over a dozen people were beaten up and were wounded. The police swiftly took them to a detention center without giving them medical treatment, further fueling the people’s anger.
By 3 p.m. on June 19, according to several blog posts, there were as many as 40,000 people gathering on the streets near the hotel. They threw bricks and bottles at the police, turned over the hearse and police vans, and chased after the plainclothes police who they discovered were monitoring them. They also blocked the nearby main streets, making it necessary for the public buses to reroute.
Violence escalated as riot police arrived at the scene in the evening of June 20. Around 7 p.m. the riot police used water hoses from fire trucks. In response, the crowd destroyed the fire trucks. The riot police then resorted to tear gas.
According to a report by Sound of Hope Radio, a high school student in Shishou said that all the high schools have been closed since that day, with the reason that they needed to accommodate the large number of riot police transferred to the city.
At night on June 20, the entire area around the Yonglong Grand Hotel had a blackout, and Shishou City’s Internet system went down. The official Web site of the Shishou City is still marked “service unavailable.”
According to China’s bloggers, the media in China have been told to remain silent about the incident.
Around 3 p.m. on June 20, China’s state media Xinhua released a news report titled Many Departments in Hubei’s Shishou City Jointly Organized a Fire Drill for Vehicle Fires, which claims that a fire drill on June 19 in Shishou City involved the fire department, traffic police, and the medical department. It says that fire broke out with one of the vehicles in the drill, that the fire was at one point out of control, and this attracted a large crowd of by-standers.
In the meantime, many bloggers’ messages on China’s Internet about the incident have been taken down.
Residents in Shishou have said that there had been at least two similar mysterious deaths at the hotel, according to China’s bloggers. One reportedly took place in 1999, another, two years ago.
It is said that two waitresses died in the same way—falling off from the hotel’s higher levels. In the second case, it was suspected that the waitress was raped, killed, and thrown out of the window.
According to the high school student interviewed by Sound of Hope, Shishou residents say that Yonglong Hotel is a breeding place for crime, and that the chef’s knowledge of the secrets at the hotel had cost him his life.
A man identified as Mr. Wang in the Sound of Hope program said that both the Public Security chief and the city governor are believed to hold shares of Yonglong Hotel, and “corruption is involved.” Some say that drug trafficking is involved.
It is said that the body of Tu Yuangao has already been taken away by the police. But the news is yet to be confirmed.