Before the Summer Olympics of 2008, China arrested numerous Falun Gong practitioners across the country. Many of them ended up dead just days or even hours after their arrest. One person who died in this campaign by the Chinese government was singer and musician Yu Zhou.
“A linguist who was fluent in several languages, Yu was a singer and drummer with a group, which performed folk music from various countries — sung in each nation’s native language — as well as their own original compositions. They had released two successful CDs and appeared on television, and their songs frequently topped the charts,” according to The Epoch Times.
He was married to poet and painter Xu Na. They started practicing Falun Gong during the mid-1990s when it was extremely popular in China. After Beijing took a hard stance against the practice in 1999 and started arresting people for being associated with Falun Gong, the couple ended up being a target of the government. Xu was imprisoned in 2001 and was only released five years later in 2006.
On the night of January 26, 2008, the couple was driving back home after attending a concert in Beijing. Midway, their car was stopped by the police who were conducting an Olympic security check. When the officers found Falun Gong CDs and literature in the vehicle, they arrested the couple. On February 6, Yu’s family was invited by the authorities to visit the Qinghe Emergency Center in Beijing. When the family arrived at the center, police followed them closely, interrogating and videotaping them.
Soon, the family discovered to their horror that Yu was dead. His body was covered in white cloth and his eyes were half-open. A family member touched the body and found that it was already ice-cold. When they questioned the police, the family was threatened not to make an issue out of this. The state offered to do an autopsy. However, Yu’s sister demanded that the autopsy be done by a doctor she trusts. Authorities declined her demand. On May 6th, Yu’s sister received the death certificate. Yu had apparently died of “natural causes.”
Officials stated that Yu’s health deteriorated due to the hunger strike he observed while in detainment or a complication arising from his diabetes. His family dismissed the claim, pointing out that Yu never had diabetes in the first place. They accused the state of mistreating Yu. His lawyer contended that Yu was beaten to death. But since the authorities refused an independent autopsy, the lawyer could not prove his point.
Since Yu was a popular figure, his death attracted international attention. Popular news outlets like The New York Times, Globe and Mail, Associated Press, and The Sunday Times covered his untimely death and Beijing’s persecution of Falun Gong practitioners. The U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China also cited Yu’s case in their reports. Rights organizations like Freedom House and Amnesty International condemned the Chinese government.
Despite all this, the Summer Olympics went ahead as planned in August 2008. Various organizations had previously asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to not allow China to host the Olympics. Allowing an authoritarian government to conduct an international event that professes the message of unity and cooperation would be contrary to the spirit of the Olympics, they had argued. However, all such concerns were dismissed by the IOC. According to various reports, Yu was just one of the approximately hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners who died in custody that year. The mass killing of practitioners continues to this day.