Prosecutors in southwestern China’s Yunnan province are investigating the case of a man who died while in police custody in March, Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported on Wednesday.
Local authorities reportedly told the parents of Peng Mingjing, a native of central China’s Hubei province, that he was arrested in Dali, a city in Yunnan, after damaging other people’s cars and computers.
A video of Peng in a police interrogation room that The Paper received from his family gives insights into what happened during the hour before his death. In the clip, which was edited down to one and a half minutes, Peng appears to try to wrestle himself out of a chair while he is handcuffed. Police in uniform and plainclothes officers repeatedly force Peng back into the chair, kicking him, pushing him, and putting a helmet on his head. At the end of the video, Peng is seen hunched over as the police officers look for signs of life.
According to an official autopsy, 36-year-old Peng died of “acute cardiac dysfunction.” The report said that the injuries he suffered as well as accompanying emotional stress were factors in his death.
Peng’s father told The Paper that when he saw his son’s body, it was covered in bruises. Police say these were self-inflicted. Peng’s father said the police wanted to settle Peng’s death with a payment, but that he did not receive a response after demanding 6 million yuan ($900,000).
In May, the death of a Beijing man, Lei Yang, while he was in police custody sparked an outcry on social media, with many suspecting he had died as a result of police brutality. The reaction to Peng’s case is divided.
Some users of microblog platform Weibo were not convinced Peng’s death was a result of police brutality. Others were quicker to draw conclusions and bemoaned the police’s treatment of the people in custody.
Organizations like Human Rights Watch have long criticized police brutality and the use of torture by Chinese authorities, and stories of forced confessions leading to miscarriages of justice regularly make the news.
In November 2015, the United Nations Committee Against Torture found that in China, “the practice of torture and ill-treatment is still deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system.” Police, it said, “wield excessive power during the criminal investigation without effective control.” The Chinese government at the time responded by saying it prohibits torture and prosecutes offenders.
Additional reporting by Qi Yue. With contributions from Denise Hruby.
(Header image: A screenshot from the police interrogation room’s monitor shows a man putting a helmet onto Peng’s head.)