BEIJING (AP) — A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer died under mysterious circumstances in an eastern Jiangsu province military hospital on Monday, his close friend said, raising questions about the welfare of those who have defied the country’s authorities.
Li Baiguang was a well-known lawyer who defended farmers and Christian pastors, work that garnered him an award from the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy in 2008. He died just hours after being admitted to No. 81 People’s Liberation Army Hospital for a minor stomach ache, a relative of Li’s told Bob Fu, a religious activist who has known the lawyer for over a decade.
Fu said in a statement through his U.S.-based Christian nonprofit group China Aid that the “Chinese regime should be totally held accountable” for Li’s sudden and “mysterious” death.
“The hospital alleged that he had liver problems and that he bled to death, but Li was previously healthy,” the statement said. “China has a history of either neglecting the medical conditions of human rights activists until they succumb to them or declaring previously healthy people dead.”
An employee surnamed Yang in the hospital’s propaganda department said he had not heard of Li’s case.
“I do not know who this person is,” Yang said, adding that death and causes of death are a “private matter.”
Fu and Li attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington together earlier this month. Li’s work defending arrested Chinese pastors often prompted death threats, Fu said. The lawyer had suffered injuries while allegedly being beaten by plainclothes security agents in October.
“We do not know for certain whether those injuries may have contributed to his declining health, but the Chinese government should, as a party to the U.N. convention against torture, conduct a prompt and impartial investigation to determine whether those injuries may have played a role in his untimely death,” said William Nee, a China researcher for Amnesty International.
“The government has the obligation to ensure that lawyers can carry out their professional duties without fear of intimidation or interference, and without being identified with their clients and causes,” Nee said.