A leading Chinese dissident imprisoned after the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests has been found hanged in hospital.
Officials suggested Li Wangyang had committed suicide, but family members questioned this account.
His body was found on Wednesday in Shaoyang city, in the southeast of the country.
He was on his feet next to his bed, with a white strip of cloth tied tightly around his neck and connected to a window bar above, according to his brother-in-law Zhao Baozhu .
Al Jazeera’s Steve Chao, reporting from Hong Kong, said relatives doubted that Li would have been physically able to hang himself.
“They pointed out the fact that he was virtually blind and deaf and unable to walk properly from his years of mistreatment in prison,” he said.
“They also pointed out that as a leading dissident, he was being monitored by sometimes up to 10 police officers 24 hours of the day and they wonder how he may have managed to slip a bandage around his neck and tie it to a window without them noticing.”
‘Always very strong’
Li, 62, was released from jail last year after two decades in custody, but had been detained again several times since.
“Even though he had so many illnesses and spent more than 20 years in jail, he never talked about suicide“
– Zhao Baozhu, brother-in-law
Zhao said he was suspicious about Li’s death because the activist had never expressed a desire to kill himself despite hardships he went through.
He said that Li had seemed normal over dinner the previous night.
“He was always very strong, there was no sign at all that he was thinking of killing himself,” Zhao told the AP news agency.
“Even though he had so many illnesses and spent more than 20 years in jail, he never talked about suicide. So I don’t believe it.”
After Li’s death was discovered, more than 40 police descended on the hospital and took his body away, preventing the hospital and family from confirming the exact cause of death, Huang Lihong, a local activist, told AFP.
Zhou Zhirong, an activist and family friend, also said that Li’s relatives were escorted away from the hospital and then detained at a hotel.
“Li’s sister and brother-in-law have been taken away by the police and they were told that the death was due to suicide,” he said.
“Family friends and supporters and other activists have been strongly warned not to cause trouble and have been placed under police surveillance.”
‘Propaganda and incitement’
Activists looking at photos of the scene on the internet also doubted Li had hanged himself since his feet were touching the ground.
He was being treated at Daxiang District People’s Hospital for illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, failing eyesight and hearing.
Li was arrested for his labour activism on June 9, 1989, five days after the bloody military crackdown on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Sentenced for “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement,” he spent much of his 11-year term at hard labour.
The subsequent 10-year sentence for inciting subversion centred on his demands for government help for health problems caused by beatings and mistreatment in prison.