Chinese lawyer Dr Li Baiguang, a campaigner for Christian freedom, has died in suspicious circumstances in China. His death has prompted a strong response from advocacy organisation Release International, which has stated the Chinese authorities must account for his death.
Dr Li Baiguang, an internationally renowned human rights defence lawyer, was pronounced dead suddenly in February. He is said to have died at 3.00am in the Chinese government military hospital in Nanjing, hours after checking in for a stomach complaint.
The hospital said he had bled to death due to a liver condition. But Dr Li, who was only 49 and neither drank nor smoked, had been in good health shortly beforehand. Other human rights campaigners have died in similarly suspicious circumstances.
According to Release International, Dr Li was an outspoken legal advocate for Christian pastors who have been arrested for their faith.
Release partners say the authorities had a history of using violence and threatening behaviour against Dr Li. In October, he was abducted by Chinese officials in Zhejiang province, beaten and threatened with dismemberment for defending farmers whose land was seized by the government.
Earlier in February, Dr Li said he felt threatened after attending the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. While he was out of the country, Chinese authorities interrogated his pastor. He leaves a wife and eight-year-old son.
Paul Robinson, chief executive of Release International, stated: ‘We are deeply saddened by the loss of this courageous, bold and compassionate Christian lawyer. We call on China to give a full, independent and transparent account of the reasons for his sudden and unexpected death’.
Over recent months there has been a tightening of restrictions against Christians in China, which will impact registered churches as well as house churches. Release partners warn the increased controls, put in place since February this year, could lead to the most severe crackdown on Christians in China since the Cultural Revolution, and increased persecution in the decade to come.
In the build-up to the new regulations, some 1,500 crosses have been torn down. Churches have been demolished, offerings seized, and pastors arrested. Many human rights lawyers, including Christians, have also been arrested. They have been denied visits by their families or legal representation.