Tianjin Falun Gong Practitioner Dies in Custody, Wife in Danger Amid Cover-Up

Urgent international action needed to return corpse to gain wife’s release

Mr. Yang Yuyong in hospital following torture in custody (Radio Free Asia)

Mr. Yang Yuyong in hospital following torture in custody (Radio Free Asia)

A 56-year-old man from Tianjin in China has died in police custody with signs of abuse visible on his body. Mr. Yang Yuyong was detained in December for practicing Falun Gong and had told his lawyer he was being tortured, according to sources in China and media reports. Local authorities are now restricting family members’ access to his corpse, while his wife, who also practices Falun Gong, remains at the same detention center responsible for her husband’s death.

“The first thing we need to do is make them release my mother since she did not commit any crime in the first place,” Yang’s daughter told Radio Free Asia.” After what happened to my father, I worry about her safety. The next step is to seek justice for my father.”

Yang and his wife Meng Xianzhen were taken from their home on December 7, 2016 during a larger sweep of Falun Gong practitioners in Tianjin. They were immediately taken to Wuqing District Detention Center. Yang relayed to his lawyer—prominent rights attorney Wen Donghai—as recently as two weeks before his death that he was being tortured at the center, including being shackled in uncomfortable positions, beaten, and sexually abused.

On July 11, authorities called Yang’s family and informed them that he had been taken to the hospital and died that afternoon. When the family arrived at the hospital, the head doctor informed them that Yang had died from a high fever related to a lung infection. However, they saw visible signs of abuse on Yang’s body, including bruises and apparent injuries from torture behind his ears and on his toes (see photos). According to Radio Free Asia, that night dozens of police surrounded the hospital and took Yang’s body away.

“The backs of his two ears had festered. The body, including the back and arms, was purple,” Yang’s son told reporters. “Roughly 100 riot police and regular police came, together with one deputy director of the public security bureau and several other officials. They surrounded the hospital and claimed that they’d take the body away. They didn’t allow us to take photos.”

The children have asked authorities to release their mother without success, while police have tried to pressure them to stop publicizing their father’s death online.

Yang is among more than 4,100 Falun Gong practitioners whose deaths from abuse and persecution have been documented since 1999. The actual number of Falun Gong deaths is believed to be significantly higher, considering evidence that practitioners have been killed and had their organs extracted to fuel China’s booming transplant industry.

“Mr. Yang should never have been arrested in the first place. Now an innocent man is dead and his wife is at serious risk of torture, long-term imprisonment—or worse,” says Erping Zhang, Falun Gong spokesperson. “We urge foreign governments, human rights groups, and United Nations experts to call on the Chinese authorities to immediately release Ms. Meng and transfer Yang’s body to his children for autopsy and burial according to their wishes.”