By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- Rights activists want China to investigate the "mysterious death" of well-known Christian human rights lawyer Li Baiguang who reportedly passed away in a military hospital despite being in good health just days before. He was 49.
Some Christians fear authorities were involved in his death in the Chinese city of Nanjing on February 26. "Li went to the hospital for a minor stomachache and was declared dead hours later," said advocacy group ChinaAid. Chinese officials have denied wrongdoing.
"The hospital alleged that he had liver problems and that he bled to death, but Li was previously healthy," ChinaAid claimed. He died under "mysterious" circumstances, added ChinaAid founder Bob Fu, a U.S-based activist and Christian pastor who has known the lawyer for over ten years.
ChinaAid, which supports Christians facing hardship, 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." It claimed that Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, Christian pro-democracy activist Yang Tianshui and prisoner of conscience Peng Ming all died under suspicious circumstances.
Just weeks before his death, Li attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., with ChinaAid President Bob Fu and a delegation of Chinese human rights activists. During the event, U.S. President Donald Trump noted that “America is a nation of believers, and together we are strengthened by the power of prayer.”
In the past, President George W. Bush also met with Li three times "due to his courageous work", said ChinaAid.
Li also received the Democracy Award from the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy group for his efforts to advance human rights and religious freedom in China, including representing "illegally arrested" Chinese pastors, China Aid recalled.
His death complicates efforts to defend the rights of Chinese citizens, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
Chinese Christians are also concerned about the lives of his wife, Xu Hanmei, and son, Li Qingxin, said his close friend Fu from ChinaAid. "We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of China's most courageous pro-constitution lawyers," he added.
Christians appealed for prayers for Li's family members and Chinese churches facing hardship in the Communist-run nation.
This month, legislators removed presidential term limits from the constitution, giving President Xi Jinping the right to remain in office indefinitely, and confirming his status as China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong died more than 40 years ago.
Local devoted Christians fear more hardship for churches and activists under Xi's rule.
Late last year, thousands of villagers in southeastern China were already told to take down pictures and symbols depicting Jesus Christ and put up a lovely photograph of President Xi Jinping in a sign of the growing cult of personality around the leader as well as rising pressure on Christian worship.
Despite the difficulties, the number of Christians in China has increased from 70 million to at least 130 million in recent years, according to Chinese officials and church estimates.
Many meet outside the official churches in what are known as underground 'house churches'.