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With before-death notes, China activists attempt to preempt being 'suicided'

Tyrone Siu / Reuters

Thousands of protesters hold banners as they march along a street, to protest and urge the Chinese authorities to carry out a proper investigation into the death of dissident Li Wangyang, in Hong Kong on June 10.

BEIJING – “I will not commit suicide” has become a new mantra among China’s human rights activists. 

They are responding half-mockingly and half-seriously to fears that they could be “suicided” by the Chinese government for their activism.

The movement comes in response to the suspicious death of Li Wangyang, a Chinese dissident jailed after the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. Li, 61, was found dead in a hospital ward on June 6 under what his family says were suspicious circumstances, just two days after the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. He had served over 20 years in Chinese prison for his activism.  

Hu Jia, a high-profile HIV/AIDS activist who served three and a half years in prison for the same crime Li was jailed for, “subversion of state power,” recently tweeted about the need to counter any foul play by the government.

Tiananmen activist found dead under suspicious circumstances

“It looks like I should leave a notarized document with my lawyer, saying: ‘Citizen Hu Jia will never commit suicide at any time, because of anyone, in any situation, or for anything,’” Hu tweeted. “If you are a dissident, activist or political prisoner constantly detained by secret police, I suggest you make a declaration or notarize such a document. This country does not lack people who were “suicided.’”

Wu Gan, another outspoken dissident known by the nickname “super vulgar butcher” on China’s blogosphere, also tried to pre-empt any future suicide claims by the government for his activism. “Here’s my announcement,” he wrote on Weibo, China’s most popular Twitter-like service. “I’m healthy (apart from fatty liver disease), optimistic, and have a lot of hope in the future. I wait for the day when the sky clears up and they are brought to justice. I will absolutely never commit suicide.” 

The movement didn’t take long to reach Twitter, where a "#Iwillnotcommitsuicide” hash tag was created on June 8, just two days after Li’s mysterious death, and has been widely re-tweeted over the last three days.  

Philippe Lopez / AFP - Getty Images

People take part in a protest for the cause of late Chinese dissident Li Wangyang in Hong Kong on June 10.

Another activist, Liu Ping, from the southern province of Jiangxi, wrote on her Weibo account:  “I solemnly declare, if I’m caught (by police) I will never commit suicide!” 

Wang Lihong, a former Beijing businesswoman, jailed for eight months for her activism, expanded on the theme on her Twitter account. “I, Wang Lihong, once tried to kill myself in prison. It wasn’t because I was weak. I was only defending my dignity. But I will never do that again, no matter how you lure, ask, or even force – I will not commit suicide, unless you do it.” 

Li’s body was found in the Daxiang District Hospital in Shaoyang, Hunan Province, where he was receiving treatment for long-term ailments related to the more than 20 years he spent in prison. He had been released on May 5, 2011. 

But he may have grown too confident in his new-found freedom. On June 4, the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown,  i-CABLE, a Hong Kong based news channel, broadcast an interview with Li in which he was extremely outspoken in his description of his torture during his time in prison.  

Two days after the interview, he was found dead in his hospital room.

According to the local government in Shaoyang, Li’s body was cremated on the morning of June 9 with his relatives’ consent. They also said an autopsy was conducted by four legal and forensic experts the day before, which was witnessed and filmed by local congressional representatives and journalists.  

NBC News could not verify the reports with Li’s sister or her husband because their cell phones remained off on Monday.