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Editorial reprinted from the Southern Metropolitan Daily

April 25, 2003

Comment: Who will take responsibility for the suspicious death of a citizen?

At 10pm on March 17th, Sun Zhigang, who was working in Guangzhou, left his house to go to an internet cafe. Without a temporary residence permit, and not carrying his ID card, he was taken to a police station, then sent to a detention center and finally sent to a penitentiary hospital. At 10pm on the 20th, he died. This moment came a whole twenty days after the young man from Hubei arrived in Guangzhou. In 2001 he had graduated from Wuhan Technical College, and before his death was working for a clothing company in Guangzhou.

This is a typical case of suspicious death, but the reasons for the death are totally clear. According to the post mortem carried out at Zhongshan University Medical School, and published on April 18th, it can essentially be determined that Sun was repeatedly beaten and bled to death. Although the relevant departments have said that Sun died of a heart condition, the post mortem found no fatal pathological changes in any of his organs.

At the moment, the obvious conclusion is that Sun was beaten either at the police station, the detention center, the hospital, or en route between these places. Currently senior figures at the Civil Affairs Bureau of the detention center, and at the hospital, have clearly stated to journalists that Sun was not beaten while with them. The police refused to be interviewed.

There is still no way of determining at which stage Sun was beaten. But this does not stop us from asking one question: who should take responsibility for the suspicious death of a citizen?

To be more specific, there are two questions. One is whether or not Sun should even have been detained. Currently, the detention system is being called into question, and even criticized by People Congress deputies, but as a system which is being implemented, it still has force. Our relevant departments must observe the law as they are enforcing it. According to the "Guangdong Province Regulations on Detention and Transfer," Sun Zhigang, who had valid documentation, a fixed abode and an income, did not even fit the criteria for detention.

The second question is: even if Sun did fit the criteria for detention, who had the authority to inflict violence upon him?

Of course, the truth is still far from being revealed. Before the facts have been investigated, we cannot accuse anyone. To do so would be irresponsible. However, someone has to be responsible for Sun's suspicious death.

We can consider ourselves lucky that individual cases like these are extremely rare in our society, which is ruled by law. However, such evil cannot but stir us to vigilance. It makes us despair that a young man in his prime could have his life taken away like this. But when thinking about this case, we shouldn't focus too much on Sun's background -- a university graduate, a youngster in the prime of life, someone with wonderful prospects. We must return to Sun's status as a normal citizen. Otherwise our sense of righteousness over people with a special background could drown out our concern for the "little people." For faced with the machinery of the state in all its might, who isn't just a little person? Who isn't an ordinary citizen?

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