Chinese rights activist in critical condition with head injuries day after being sentenced to jail

A rights activist in central China remained in critical condition on Thursday after suffering serious head injuries at a detention centre the day after being handed a four-and-a-half-year jail term, according to his son.

Police at the detention centre in Henan province’s Xi county said Xing Wangli had tried to hang himself on Saturday and was injured while being rescued, according to Xing’s family, but they did not believe the explanation.

Xing, 45, was detained in May last year for calling public attention to the suspicious death of a petitioner in Xi county.

He was sentenced for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” by a court in Xi county last Friday.

Xing’s son, Xing Jian, who is in Thailand, said his mother was taken to a local hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning, where his father underwent a four-hour-long emergency operation for a skull fracture and bleeding in the brain.

The 20-year-old son fled to Thailand in October following his father’s arrest.

Police told Xing’s wife that Xing had used a blanket to cover his head and hanged himself from the iron bars of a window.

His head hit the floor when he was being freed by fellow inmates, they said.

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“They told my uncle that he had used cardboard from a box to make a rope to hang himself with. But how is that possible? He’s under surveillance 24 hours a day at the detention centre, so there wouldn’t be any chance at all for him to make a rope,” Xing Jian said.

The detention centre and public security bureau in Xi county could not be reached for comment on Thursday morning. The public security bureau in Xinyang city, which oversees Xi county, was also unavailable.

Xing Jian said he called the local police chief to ask what had happened to his father but the chief refused to explain.

The police chief also refused to share any surveillance footage, Xing Jian said.

According to Xing Jian, his father had immediately demanded an appeal after receiving his sentence and had asked the court to give him the written verdict.

But the court told the senior Xing that he could have the document only later, the son said.

Xing Wangli’s lawyer Gao Chengcai said that according to China’s criminal law procedures, the court should have hand over the written verdict on the spot.

Gao said he suspected the court was trying to postpone his client’s appeal, which could not start without a written verdict.

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Xing Jian said both his mother and his uncle had since been put under heavy police surveillance.

“My mother was followed everywhere, even when she went to the toilet at the hospital,” he said.

His mother could not be reached by phone on Thursday. Xing Jian said she had been told by police not to talk to the press.

“They threatened that if she did so, my father’s medical treatment could be affected,” he said.