Calls are growing for a thorough probe into the suspicious death of blind-and-deaf mainland activist Li Wangyang in a Hunan hospital ward.
More than 3,000 people, including well-known activists Ai Weiwei, Wu'er Kaixi and Hu Jia, had signed an online petition by last night calling for an autopsy on the 62-year-old's remains by an authorized forensics science institution outside Shaoyang city.
The petition also called for police to be held accountable for Li's death and that the United Nations step in to probe the incident.
Li was found dead with a white strip of cloth around his neck. The cloth was tied to a window bar in the ward. His feet were touching the floor, raising suspicions he was killed.
Meanwhile, a family friend, Zhou Zhirong, said two of Li's relatives were taken away by police yesterday.
"Li's sister and brother-in-law have been taken away by the police and they were told that the death was due to suicide," Zhou said.
"Family friends and supporters and other activists have been strongly warned not to cause trouble and have been placed under police surveillance."
At the same time, i-Cable television reported that mainland officials have been urging Li's family members to sign an agreement to cremate his body immediately.
But the family insisted that there should be a thorough investigation of the cause of death first.
Li's friend, Zhu Chengzhi, said he does not believe the activist committed suicide.
"He was a tough person who just wanted society to progress," Zhu said. "It is like an Arabian Nights fantasy to claim that he committed suicide."
Zhu also said a lawyer who came to Shaoyang city to assist Li's family now could not be reached.
Li was jailed for more than 20 years for his involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown and a labor rights campaign. He left prison only last year. His death on Wednesday came a few days after he had an interview with i-Cable in which he said he would never give up his pursuit of democracy even if his "head is to be chopped off."
In Hong Kong, about 50 people led by groups such as Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China protested outside the central government's liaison office calling for a probe into Li's death.