Police have arrested nine suspects after a 68-year-old man, Yang Tianzhi, was found dead in August following a trip to Beijing to petition central authorities.
Although the arrest were made in August, police from Yuechi County in southwestern China’s Sichuan province made the announcement on Sunday on their official Weibo microblog account. Yu Jie, the local party secretary, has also been suspended.
According to the post, Yang and three other people from Yuechi traveled to Beijing to petition on Aug. 16, though it does not specify the nature of their grievances. Chinese citizens commonly travel to the country’s capital to appeal to higher levels of government if they feel they have been wronged by local authorities.
On the next day, the petitioners were invited by one of the suspects to get into a car, under the guise that they would be provided with accommodation. The suspects then contacted a man surnamed Yu to tell him they would drive the petitioners back to Sichuan, where they arrived on Aug. 20, the announcement said. Later that same day, Yang was found dead on the side of the road.
Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper confirmed that Yu was the local party secretary after contacting the authorities, and also spoke with one of the petitioners, Ding Renxiang, who said that they were frequently beaten by their captors during the trip back to Sichuan.
Because petitioners’ appeals to central authorities can be damaging to the careers of local officials, governments around China have set up elaborate systems to make sure petitioners are intercepted and sent back before they can make their grievances known. Media reported in 2010 on so-called black jails, or illegal facilities where petitioners are held before local governments can arrange to have them sent back home.
The police announcement did not give the cause of Yang’s death. In 2012, a 55-year-old petitioner from central China’s Henan province died on his way home from the capital. Fellow petitioners said the man had been beaten by unidentified thugs, but the official explanation was that he died of illness.
(Header image: Yang Yi/Sixth Tone)