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Official explanation for 'hide-and-seek' death reversed

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The official explanation for the death of a young man in Jinning County from brain injuries sustained while in police custody has been reversed by provincial authorities, who also demoted senior officers for their mishandling of what has come to be known in China as the 'hide-and-seek incident'.

In a Friday press conference, the Yunnan prosecutor's office said that Yuxi resident Li Qiaoming (李荞明), who had been arrested and held in a detention center in Jinning in late January, suffered fatal head trauma at the hands of his cellmates, who bullied and beat him.

The original explanation given by local police for Li's death was that he was careless while playing a blindfolded game of hide-and-seek with his cellmates, during which he allegedly hit his head into a wall, leading to his fatal brain injuries.

Chinese blogs, newspapers and bulletin board sites instantly jumped on the police explanation and questioned its veracity. The term 'duo maomao' (躲猫猫, or 'eluding the cat') – the Chinese name for hide-and-seek – became an instant internet catchphrase, as well as a source of embarrassment for the Yunnan government.

The provincial government's propaganda bureau responded to the internet-fuelled outcry by organizing a group of 'netizens', including high-profile local bloggers, to act as a special investigation committee. The committee was given access to police documents and viewed Li's cell, but was denied access to surveillance video and Li's cellmates. The committee quickly declared that it was unable to get to the bottom of the case due to this lack of access.

The committee's announcement brought about more questions and criticism from the Chinese blogosphere, and within a week, provincial authorities announced that Li's death was a result of being beaten by other detainees while in police custody.

Yunnan prosecutor's office spokesman Liu Xiaokai told reporters that three of Li's cellmates had frequently bullied Li, with the incident leading to his death taking place on the evening of February 8. Liu said that the three detainees had asked Li to join in a game of hide-and-seek, blindfolded him, and then beat him, during which time Li hit his head on a wall, which ultimately led to his death four days later.

According to Yunnan Public Security Bureau spokeswoman Yang Jianping, the vice-director of Jinning's Public Security Bureau and top two officials at the Jinning detention center were demoted, and the officer in charge of Li's cell block was fired.

Doubts have been voiced by some Chinese internet users regarding the new official explanation for Li's death, but it appears likely that – barring any further internet outrage – this is now a closed case. In the meantime, there is no word on how the new explanation for Li's death will affect his family's attempts to collect 250,000 yuan in compensation for his death.

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It's our duty to find out the truth!

It is not surprising that access to the video and Li's cellmates was not permitted -- that's China. It is easier to demote or fire a prison officer because there are thousands of applicants to fill the positions. Anyway, we know that demoted government officials are re-instated after approximately six months.

Our main concern, now, should be to ensure that adequate compensation be paid to the family.

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