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Dead chef's family says government reneged on punishment exemption

THE family of a chef whose suicide stirred a mass protest in a central China city has challenged the government's accountability after police detained some family members despite an agreement to exempt them from punishment.

Five family members have been detained among the 31 in custody on charges of disrupting social and traffic order in Hubei Province's Shishou City, Legal Daily reported today.

Police told the newspaper 14 of the 31 were arrested and another 51 people were given administrative punishment.

The week-long unrest started on June 17 when Tu Yuangao, a 24-year-old chef at Yonglong Hotel in Shishou, was found dead outside the hotel. His family refused to let his body be taken by police and claimed the authorities were trying to cover up a murder.

Thousands of protesters torched the hotel and overturned police cars to stop the authorities from removing the body.

The unrest ceased on June 25, after the chef's family reached a compensation deal with mediation by the local government. The family agreed to cremate the body.

According to the deal, the hotel owners offered 50,000 yuan (US$7,319.9) compensation and the local government shouldered 30,000 yuan for humanitarian reasons.

The deal also included an agreement to exempt family members from punishment for their involvement in the unrest, the chef's uncle Tu Deqiang told Legal Daily.

He showed the handwritten agreement, signed by both parties and dated June 24, to the newspaper.

Government officials participating in the talks denied the agreement protects the family from legal punishment if they did break the law during the unrest.

Guo Zixin, one of the two government representatives who signed the deal, told the Legal Daily that the family misunderstood the context of the punishment exemption.

He said the exemption only applies if no law violations occurred, he told the newspaper.

Lawyers said the agreement is in its nature invalid by law.

The family's lawyer Xuan Dong told the newspaper that police should have better explained the deal to the family members.

A police investigation concluded the chef died in a suicide jump.

The uncle said the family demanded the punishment exemption agreement after sensing the situation was going to be far beyond their control the day after the chef died.

The family had agreed to let police move the body that day after negotiations, but protesters refused it.

In the following days, the protesters blocked roads, set fire to the hotel, smashed windows and stopped police from moving the body. A fire engine and two police vehicles were damaged, according to earlier Xinhua news agency reports.

There were no reports of injuries during the unrest.

The terms of the agreement said family members were exempt from punishment for protesting in the unrest and the hotel arson, which they were not involved.

Three days after the deal was signed, police started taking away family members and detained five of them, the uncle told the newspaper. The police investigated 17 of family members.


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