Two women have reportedly in a fire at a Henan police station.
A statement posted on the local procuratorate’s Weibo account said that two petitioners from Baiyuan township near the city of Luoyang were brought to a police station. As the two women – one surnamed Li, one surnamed Wang – were waiting to be interrogated at the station, Li lit the combustible soft padding covering the wall on fire, causing the deaths of both women.
The Beijing Times, which is overseen by the official Communist Party paper the People’s Daily, reported that the two women suffered burn injuries and died at around 8:40pm. A spokesperson from the county’s communications department told the paper that police station staff called emergency services and sent them to the hospital, but they died from their injuries.
“That night, two women locked the door of the station’s waiting room, from the surveillance camera in the room, you can see one of them take out a lighter from her pocket and light the combustible items in the room on fire, causing a blaze,” he said.
The procuratorate’s post cited their multiple visits to Beijing to submit petitions on a land dispute with neighbours as the reason for their detention.
Two police officers are suspected of dereliction of duty and are under investigation by the procuratorate. They are detained under criminal coercive measures and the case is being investigated, it said.
A previous Beijing Times article which reported a rumour that they were beaten to death and their bodies burned to destroy the evidence is no longer available on the site, but an English version is still available from state tabloid the Global Times.
A spokesperson for the county’s communications department said the rumour was “absolutely a lie” in the previous article.
The report also identified the petitioners as Wang Shetao and Li Xiaocui, two women in their 40s, and quoted a relative of Wang as saying that family members were not allowed to enter the police station and have not seen the bodies. Her husband, and their two daughters and son were taken away by government employees, the relative said.
Petitioners travelling to the capital to submit complaints are sometimes intercepted by local authorities to prevent them from appealing to higher government authorities.
In April, the death of a young environmentalist in police custody led to widespread anger in the country over police brutality. Following Lei’s death, President Xi Jinping vowed to address the problem with tougher regulations and in July, the Ministry of Public Security announced new protocols for police officers, including that they must allow themselves to be filmed by citizens.