Religious freedom advocates are calling for an investigation into the mysterious death of noted Christian human rights attorney Li Baiguang, who died Feb. 26 in a Chinese military hospital after recent good health.
Li Baiguang, second from left, is shown with former President George W. Bush, whom ChinaAid said met with Li three times to encourage the attorney’s courageous work.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) likely killed 49-year-old Li, ChinaAid President Bob Fu said in a Feb. 26 news release, the same day physicians in China’s eastern Jiangsu province said Li died of internal bleeding from liver problems while seeking medical treatment for stomach pain.
Just 18 days earlier, Li had attended in seemingly good health the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, joined by Fu and a delegation of Chinese human rights activists. The circumstances of Li’s death indicate he was murdered by the CCP he often opposed, ChinaAid declared in its news release, noting the CCP’s history of abuse of Li and others advocating for religious freedom and justice.
“He was treated violently last year and was threatened a number of times recently by the Chinese regime,” Fu said. “He has been a bold and compassionate human rights lawyer, always ready in defense of the persecuted and vulnerable. Like in the sudden death of [Nobel Peace Prize laureate] Dr. Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese regime should be held totally accountable.”
China had released no additional details of Li’s death since Feb. 26, a ChinaAid representative told Baptist Press March 2. Li received death threats as recently as November 2017, ChinaAid reported at that time.
In October 2017, Li had suffered injuries while allegedly being beaten by plainclothes security agents, the Associated Press (AP) reported. According to Fu’s account, Li “was kidnapped by Chinese officials in Zhejiang province, beaten and forced to leave the area on the threat of dismemberment for defending farmers whose land was illegally taken by the government.”
William Nee, whom the AP identified as a China researcher for Amnesty International, said the injuries could have contributed to Li’s death.
“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,” the AP quoted Nee as saying Feb. 26. “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.”
ChinaAid praised Li as a tireless advocate on behalf of the oppressed.
“Li’s bravery knew no bounds, and he steadfastly defended the oppressed despite death threats made against him,” ChinaAid said. Li, who received the Democracy Award from the National Endowment for Democracy for his efforts to advance human rights and religious freedom in China, has represented numerous illegally arrested Chinese pastors, ChinaAid said.
An employee of No. 81 People’s Liberation Army Hospital in Jiangsu province where Li died denied knowing the attorney, the AP reported Feb. 26.
“I do not know who this person is,” the AP quoted the hospital employee as saying, describing him as a propagandist surnamed Yang, who said the details of Li’s death are a “private matter.”
Fu and others encouraged the international community to seek answers.
“The whole world should demand that the Chinese government give a full, independent, and transparent account on what caused Dr. Li’s sudden death,” Fu said. “ChinaAid calls on the international community and leaders of the free world to speak out against Li’s death and call China to an account for its abusive and murderous actions so that no other person will suffer a similar fate.”
Others calling for an investigation include U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., co-chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
China has a history of neglecting the health of human rights activists and of declaring dead those who were previously healthy, ChinaAid said, noting the cases of Nobel laureate Xiaobo, pro-Democracy activist and Christian Yang Tianshui, and prisoner of conscience Peng Ming.
In January, Fu said religious freedom in communist China was at its harshest in 50 years and was “increasingly deteriorating” under Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Religious freedom watchdog group Open Doors listed China as 43rd on its 2018 watch list of the 50 places where it is hardest for Christians to live. An estimated 97 million of China’s 1.4 billion people are Christians in the country that is mostly atheistic, Open Doors said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)