The Death of the Judge

(Southern Metropolis Daily)  Why Did The Judge Die In The Detention Center?  By Pan Xiaoling (潘晓凌) and Cheng Xi (成希).  April 26, 2007.

[in translation]

Although she had assumed the worst, Zhou Yanyue still wilted onto the ground when she saw her husband.

She had not seen her husband in eleven days but now Li Chaoyang was unrecognizable: there was a gash as wide as the lips between the nostrils and the lips; two front teeth were broken off; the skin from the back of the neck down to the buttocks were reddish-purplish; there were obvious bruises on the outside right leg, the left kneecap and the shoulders.

[Note: the four photographs below were taken by the family members of Li Chaoyang and not published in this newspaper article as such.  They are included here, because they form the basis of the reporter's description.]

This 38-year-old judge of the Pingle county (Guilin city, Guangxi province) court was held at the Number One Detention Center and then at the Xing'an County Detention Center of Guilin from March 23, 2007 to April 2, 2007.  On the morning of April 2, he was sent to the Xing'an People's Hospital, where he was pronounced dead when efforts to save him failed.

Even now, Zhou Yanyue could not associate this man with the bruises all over his body with her husband of fourteen years.  She would rather freeze her memory on March 22.

On that morning, Li Chaoyang put on his light brown corduroy jacket and dark brown leisure pants, and went to work with his briefcase.  Zhou Yanyue said that the light yellow color highlighted her husband's 1.74m height and 73 kilogram body.  "It makes him look like a scholar."

At 11:30am, Zhou Yanyue received a telephone call from her husband who told her that he had been summoned by the county procuratorate to "write a document about his knowledge" and "he may not be able to come home that night."  At 8pm, she spoke to her husband again and learned that he had been transferred to the Guilin City Procuratorate.  This was their last conversation.  Thereafter, Li Chaoyang's mobile telephone was turned off.

On March 24, the worried Zhou Yanyue received a detention notice from the Guilin city Yanshan district public security bureau to the effect that her husband has been detained at the Guilin Number One Detention Center on suspicion of "taking bribes."  On March 25, Zhou Yanyue collected some clothes for her husband -- the bag was stuffed with brown clothing and pants -- today, this is the color that she hated most to look at.

Many more things that she would hate followed.  On April 2, Zhou Yanyue received some "oddly nice" warmth.  First, at the Pingle court, the director Zhao Weidong asked her, "How old is the child?" and "What other members are there in Li Chaoyang's family?"  He also told her that the court would send a car in the afternoon to take her and the other family members to the Xing'an Detention Center to visit Li Chaoyang.  When they arrived at Xing'an, the detention center director offered to take them out to dinner: "We had hot pot, we ordered chicken soup and the leader toasted us with wine."

But the sense of foreboding quickly turned true.  After the meal, a cadre with the Xing'an County Political Consultative Conference announced that Li Chaoyang was dead.  The cries and screams were like bombs that were set off in the room.  Li Chaoyang's younger sister Li Xiuqing put aside the task of comforting her wailing sister-in-law and took out paper and pen to record the explanation from the officials.

According to Li Xiuqing's notes, Director Pan of the Xing'an County Detention Center claimed: On March 28, Li Chaoyang tripped and fell as he was going out and he was taken to the hospital for stitches; on April 1, the detention center guards took him for a bath and they found him to be so over-excited that he defecated on himself.  Previously, Li Chaoyang's "crazy" symptoms were already noted at the Guilin Number One Detention Center, and that was one reason why he was transferred to the Xing'an County Detention Center.  At 5am on April 2, Li Chaoyang finished eating the leftover food from the previous evening.  At 8pm, Li Chaoyang became unconscious suddenly during breakfast.  He was taken to the hospital where he died when efforts to revive him failed.

The Southern Weekend reporter contacted director Pan, who confirmed that the notes were accurate.  Shi Shaosen, who is the leader of the Li Chaoyang case investigation team and the director of the Law Enforcement Supervisory Office of the Guilin City Political and Law Committee confirmed the "craziness" and the episodes of uncontrolled defecation and urination.  But he emphasized that mental insanity cannot be established at this time because the case diagnosis has to be completed first.

This explanation could not mollify the sorrow and doubts of the family members.

Zhou Yanyue was firm in rejecting the explanation from the detention center.  She told the Southern Weekend reporter that Li Chaoyang lived a disciplined life.  Each morning, he drank pure water on an empty stomach, he persisted in taking a walk, he lifted barbell weights, he went for mountain hikes with his family on weekends and he was very healthy.  He had gone to a hospital only once in his life and that was because he had a broken bone after being hit by a car.  He was very meticulous about personal hygiene.  He bathed and shampooed every day.  "How can such a person go insane?  How can he defecate everywhere? How can he die suddenly?"  Li Xiuqing also emphasized that Li Chaoyang was the most robust and lively one among the five siblings.

In the eyes of the wife, Li Chaoyang was a clear thinking and decisive person.  He could not have gone "crazy."  A leader at the Pingle County Court Office in charge of the case also said that Li Chaoyang was a dedicated worker with good capability and he got along well with this supervisors and colleagues.

But there was one point that the Li family evaded -- the details about the "suspected bribery" for which Li Chaoyang was being detained.  Zhou Yanyue claimed to be completely ignorant about it.  Her husband rarely spoke about his work, he usually read books in his leisure time and he seldom went out.  When Li Xiuqing wrote about her brother's case on the Internet, she only said that "Li was detained on 'suspicion to taking bribes'..."

A leader in the Guilin City Procuratorate who did not want to be identified brought up three points.  First, Li Chaoyang was indeed suspected of taking bribes.  Secondly, the Supervisory Department followed the procedures and nobody physically assaulted him.  Thirdly, the Procuratorate did not send anyone over to Xing'an Detention Center to interrogate Li Chaoyang and so his death was not connected to the Procuratorate.  He said that the preliminary conclusion of the investigative group was that Li Chaoyang had committed suicide.

Director Jiang is responsible for publicity at the Guilin City Procuratorate and he was interviewed by the Southern Weekend reporter.  He said that the investigation has not been finished yet.  Therefore no conclusions can be reached about the cause of death for Li Chaoyang.  He said that Li Chaoyang was involved a case in which judges were taking bribes.  Along with Li Chaoyang, the Guilin City Procuratorate took custody of six judges in the Pingle County Court.  The death of Li Chaoyang affected the investigation of the case, but the Procuratorate has obtained evidence that they were taking bribes.

As to why Li Chaoyang was transferred to a different detention center, Director Jiang's explanation was very different from that of Director Pan of the Xing'an County Detention Center.  Director Jiang said that Li Chaoyang had connections in Guilin City and he was transferred to Xing'an so that he could not coordinate his testimony with the others or otherwise take advantage of the system.

Before the autopsy report and the investigative report are issued, the death of Li Chaoyang seems to have become a <Rashomon>.

"Unless we get the autopsy report, we will not consent to cremation."  Li Xiuqing has been toiling to get to the truth of the death of her brother.  Every day, she consulted the Guilin City Yellow Pages to contact and consult all the possible organizations and friends.  She said that the Guilin Procuratorate and the Public Security Bureau seemed to have broken the law in their law enforcement process.  Li Xiuqing provided the faxed notice on the detention of Li Chaoyang to the Southern Weekend reporter.  There were no stamps or signatures of the person in charge of the case.  Zhou Yanyue also claimed that when she received the fax, the worker informed her that the original document would be sent in a few days.  But she has not seen the original document as yet.

"The Guilin Procuratorate has been flawless in the handling this case," said Director Jiang.  He also said that the detention notice to Li Chaoyang was definitely an original document (and not some reproduction).  It could not be missing a stamp or the signature of the person handling the case.  "I am sure of that."

Director Jiang emphasized that the video evidence can prove that the Procuratorate was clean and the process was fair.  "We did not touch a single hair on him."  But when Li Xiuqing requested the videotapes from the Procuratorate, she was turned down.  Director Jiang said that the Procuratorate is not obliged to provide the videotapes to the family members, and they are presently available for viewing only by the relevant departments.

The family members applied to retrieve Li Chaoyang's possessions, view the corpse and read the medical history including the "craziness," but the responses were always: "This requires the approval of the comrade leaders."

Before the death of the Li Chaoyang, this family was among the elite: Li's wife Zhou Yanyue worked at the County Department of Health, Li Xiuqing worked at the Telecommunications Office, her husband worked at the County Hospital and his father was a retired old cadre from Guilin City.  But now, Li Xiuqing is trying to let herself "adjust" slowly to the procedures at these departments.

On April 4, Li Xiuqing and Zhou Yanyue began to visit and petition the Guilin City Procuratorate, the City Political Consultative Conference and the People's Congress.  Apart from receiving one notice form the Guilin City Public Security Bureau about a petition, there was no other response.

The only substantive reaction that Zhou Yanyue has received is a visit from Shi Shaosen who is the director of the Guilin City Political Consultative Conference Supervisory Department and the leader of the Li Chaoyang case investigative team.  He asked her about Li Chaoyang's medical history and health condition.

In the interview with the Southern Weekend reporter, Shi Shaosen said that the Li Chaoyang case investigative team was formed jointly by the Guilin City Politics and Law Committee, the Guilin City Court and the Guilin City Procuratorate, and they are presently investigating the cause of death of Li Chaoyang.

"Before the conclusion is reached, the Guilin City Procuratorate and the Public Security Bureau are all suspected of breaking the law.  It is unconvincing if they are permitted to participate in the investigation."  China Criminal Prosecution Law Reform Expert Group's professor Chen Guangzhong said.  "The investigation should be conducted by a political/law department at one level higher in order to show neutrality and authority."

"Furthermore, the autopsy should go outside of Guilin to get the services of neutral and authoritative experts."  Chen Guangzhong said that the first autopsy is very important because the collection of certain samples are under time constraints and can affect the outcome of the examination.

Zhou Yanyue had requested a Category I organization of the Guangxi Zhuang Tribe Autonomous Region to conduct the autopsy, but it was not approved.  Finally, from between the two city-level organizations designated by the Guilin Public Security Bureau, she chose the hospital affiliated with the Guilin City School of Medicine.

The forensic doctor indicated that the results will be known in ten working days. 

Related LinkThe Dead Judge (Beijing News, with additional photographs)