BEIJING — Prominent Chinese human rights activist Cao Shunli, detained in September for staging sit-ins at the country’s foreign ministry, has died, a fellow dissident and one of her lawyers said on Friday, after she was denied medical treatment in detention.
Cao’s death is likely to trigger an outcry from China’s fledgling rights community and criticism from the West, which has expressed concern about her case.
The news comes soon after the start of a session in Geneva of the UN Human Rights Council, a body to which China was elected amid controversy last November.
“On Sept 14…she was perfectly fine and going to Europe for a trip. Now she’s gone. Cao Shunli’s wishes were never accomplished,” dissident Hu Jia told Reuters.
“When the weather gets warmer, we will stand outside the door of the foreign ministry, continue to petition and call for the supervision of the government’s actions. We will remember this date.”
Cao staged a two-month sit-in along with other activists outside the Foreign Ministry, beginning in June, to press for the public to contribute to a national human rights report.
She went missing in mid-September after authorities prevented her from flying to Geneva for a human rights training program. She was formally arrested in October on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” the watchdog group Human Rights in China said.
Cao’s family saw wounds on her body, Liu Weiguo, a lawyer who has been acting for Cao, told Reuters, citing another of her lawyers, Wang Yu. But it is unclear how they were inflicted.
“The hospital is not willing to let the lawyer and the family look at the body,” Liu said.
Liu said he was “very saddened” by the news, saying both he and Wang had urged officials holding Cao to allow her medical treatment since last October but no action was taken.
Human Rights in China had quoted Cao’s lawyer last month as saying she suffered from tuberculosis, liver disease and other ailments. Medical parole was denied until she was seriously ill.
Wang had told Reuters that Cao’s younger brother planned to sue the Chaoyang District Detention Centre in Beijing, where his sister was being held, for its “criminal acts” in refusing to give her medical treatment.
The lawyers “definitely plan to sue” the Chaoyang detention centre after consulting Cao’s family, Liu said, adding, “the entire legal and human rights community is indignant about this.”
Cao died in a Beijing hospital to which authorities had finally let her be taken. Two weeks ago, a friend told Reuters she had suffered organ failure and had only a few days left.
Hundreds of activists along with Cao had urged officials to reply to their requests to participate in drafting China’s national human rights report ahead of the country’s Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations in October.
Cao had been at the forefront of efforts to participate in the process to join the Universal Periodic Review since 2008.