Child's death turns up heat on China's
By Miao Ye Asia Time June 28, 03
HONG KONG - Now that SARS is yesterday's news, a new domestic issue is
quickly garnering nationwide attention in China. The controversy surrounds
the unnecessary death of Li Siyi, a three-year-old girl who was the daughter
of a heroin-addicted mother in Chengdu, capital of southwestern China's
Sichuan province. The issue has replaced severe acute respiratory syndrome as
the hottest chatroom topic in the country, with the majority of
opinion-holders extremely angry and disappointed - but not with the girl's
The driving force behind public anger is the perception of Chinese police as
abusers of authority who care little for the people they are supposed to
protect. This perception had already been fueled by the March death of Sun
Zhigang, a 27-year-old graphic designer at Guangzhou Daqi Garment Co in Wuhan,
capital of central China's Hubei province. He was killed on March 20 after
being detained three days before because of not carrying valid
identification. Although his employer provided the relevant document within
hours of his arrest, Sun was not released from detention by police and ended
up getting beaten to death by his cellmates.
According to the Chengdu Shangbao newspaper last Sunday, the more recent of
the two events took place in the Qingbaijiang district of Chengdu. On June 4,
Li Guifang, a heroin-addicted mother of one, locked her three-year-old
daughter at home and disappeared. It was not until the evening of June 21,
when the woman's neighbor smelled an unpleasant odor and called police, that
the incident was brought to light. When police officers broke through the
door and entered the house, the toddler had starved to death in the
Initially it seemed an open-and-shut case of a negligent parent. However,
when Chengdu Shangbao reporters investigated the case further on Monday, the
day after breaking the story, they discovered a new and disturbing element.
Li had left her daughter locked up at home on June 4 and went to Jintang
county, 10 kilometers outside her residential district, where she aimed to
steal anything she could that was of value in order to support her heroin
habit. She was caught by police and sent to a rehabilitation center on theft
and drug charges.
Upon her arrest, Li knelt and pleaded with police to allow her to return home
to release her daughter to her relatives before being taken to the detention
center. The police officers did not agree, nor did they take measures to
verify her repeated claim that her toddler was home alone. They would not
call the local police station on Li's street or notify any of her relatives
(she has two sisters and one brother). Her daughter was therefore left at
home, where she starved and died alone.
According to the Procedures for Compulsory Drug Addiction Rehabilitation
issued by the State Council on 1995, drug takers must be rehabilitated. A
compulsory rehabilitation decision shall be given to an addict before he/she
joins any rehabilitation center. The law also stipulates that within three
days after the decision being made, the addict's family, employer and local
police station must be notified. However, these regulations were ignored by
the police officers involved in this case.
The case has stirred widespread anger. A typical Internet posting said: "I'm
also a mother. I believe that even if a mother is scourged by drugs,
addiction aside, she is still a nice mother with a conscience. She knelt and
begged for help to rescue her child after being arrested, which means that
she's a qualified mother." Another person commented: "After reading the
article, my heart was broken and tears ran down my cheeks. Public servants,
what a joke. Where's their humanity? Are they humans? I'm so angry."
This incident followed the conclusion of the Sun Zhigang case. Amid public
pressure, a total of 12 people were found guilty of beating Sun to death,
receiving death penalties or terms of imprisonment ranging from three years
to life. Another positive result from the case is that the central government
has annulled the decades-old "Measures for Internment and Deportation of
Urban Vagrants and Beggars" and promulgated new regulations on aid to the
homeless and beggars.
Police officials in Chengdu have obviously drawn lessons from the Sun Zhigang
case in Guangzhou when handling the Li issue. With one hand they quickly
arrested those associated with Li Siyi's death and with the other blocked all
follow-up reports by media.
According to the local government on Wednesday, investigations found that
police stations in the outskirts of Jintang county and the United Village of
Qingbaijiang District in Chengdu had made calls to families of Li Guifang but
nobody answered the phone. Police officers therefore ignored her begging and
didn't attach any importance to it. Officers from the two police stations
that imposed compulsory rehabilitation on Li Guifang have been determined to
be responsible for the death of little Li Siyi.
Chengdu police are refusing access to information regarding the case for all
local media, but the reporter who broke the story for the Chengdu Shangbao
has disseminated her story via the Internet on online bulletin boards such as
bbs.people.com and forum.xinhuanet.com. While attempts have been made to
suppress postings related to the story, the size and speed of the Internet
and its huge popularity in China have rendered such efforts futile.
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