The Chinese authorities must immediately let the family of deceased activist Cao Shunli see her body, said Amnesty International, as fears grow the authorities will cremate Cao to destroy any evidence of her mistreatment in detention.
Cao’s brother, Cao Yunli, and the family’s lawyer, Wang Yu were prevented from seeing her body when they visited 309 Military Hospital in Beijing on Wednesday.
Hospital staff claimed that Cao’s body was no longer being held there and refused to disclose any further details. Officials also rejected requests by the family for copies of Cao’s medical records.
“It appears the authorities will stop at nothing to hide what really happened to Cao Shunli. This has all the markings of a cover-up on the part of the authorities," said Anu Kultalahti, China Researcher at Amnesty International.
Cao died from organ failure on 14 March at the hospital after six months in detention. Repeated requests by Cao’s family for her to receive medical treatment for serious health problems were repeatedly denied.
“The very least Cao Shunli’s family deserve is to find out the truth behind her death. They must be given immediate access to her body and medical records. The authorities must not cremate Cao without the explicit permission of her family,” added Anu Kultalahti.
Since Cao’s death, the authorities have claimed she did receive appropriate medical treatment in detention. The family have said that Cao’s body was covered in black and purple marks when she died.
“There needs to be an urgent, thorough, transparent and independent investigation, including an autopsy, into the circumstances of Cao’s death. The authorities must punish those responsible, whoever they are,” said Anu Kultalahti.
Cao was detained last September in Beijing as she attempted to travel to Geneva to attend a human rights training programme. She had led attempts to allow activists to contribute to China’s national human rights report, as part of the ongoing review at the UN.
Chinese officials at the UN in Geneva objected to a proposed minute of silence in her memory during a review of the country’s human rights record last week. Senior UN officials, including the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and several governments have expressed concern over Cao’s death.