A jailed activist in Central China has said that he did not sustain head injuries from a suicide attempt, contradicting the authorities’ version of events.

Xing Wangli, a 45-year-old who was jailed for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” was in a coma after his skull was fractured at a detention centre in August. He underwent three to four hours of emergency surgery for serious head injuries, according to his family.

Xi Wangli in hospital. Photo: RFA.

The detention centre in Xi county, Henan, said that Xing attempted to hang himself with a rope made of cardboard. They said his head hit the ground when another prisoner lifted him up by the legs to free him from the rope, but failed to catch him.

Xing awoke from the coma in mid-September, according to Radio Free Asia. His wife told the US-backed news service on Wednesday that her husband said he fell unconscious after he was beaten at the detention centre and woke up to find himself in hospital.

“They said he tried to commit suicide by hanging – it’s impossible. He said he was beaten, he said that he was beaten but he didn’t even know [at the time].”

See also: How ‘picking quarrels’ became Beijing’s go-to weapon in anti-dissident lawfare

Xing underwent surgery to repair his skull on Monday and was brought back to a detention centre in Xi county on the same day, his son Xing Jian – who fled to Thailand following his father’s arrest – said.

Xing Wangli’s son protesting in Thailand. Photo: RFA.

Xing was detained in May last year for calling attention online to the suspicious death of a petitioner. He was sentenced to four and a half years in August and allegedly attempted suicide the next day.

At the time, his family rejected the authorities’ explanation and asked to see security camera footage, but their request was denied.

After the family spoke to media about Xing’s condition, Xing’s wife, mother, and brother were put under surveillance, and his uncle was threatened with jail time and held at a guesthouse.

The charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” is often used to silence critics of the Chinese government.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.