Calls for Probe of Lawyer’s “Mysterious” Death

Chinese rights lawyer Li Baiguang has died suddenly of liver disease in a hospital. Li was particularly noted for his work defending fellow Christians and victims of forced evictions, for which he received a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush in 2006. He subsequently set up a legal hotline for foreign correspondents during the 2008 Olympics in case of "any conflict with the authorities." More recently, he was appointed by family members to represent "Black Friday" detainee and fellow rights lawyer Hu Shigen, but was barred from doing so. Hu was sentenced to seven years in prison for subversion in August 2016.

The Associated Press reported the circumstances of Li’s , which activists have described as "mysterious":

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 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 can carry out their professional duties without fear of intimidation or interference, and without being identified with their clients and causes,” Nee said. [Source]

The case has attracted some comparison with others, notably and fatally those of activist Cao Shunli and jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, in which political targets’ health conditions have or may have been used against them to coerce or punish. Li, unlike Cao and Liu, has not recently been in extended detention. A source told Reuters that "he had not done a health check recently, so we do not know if there was a long-term cause" for his death. But Fu and others have expressed skepticism that his condition could have deteriorated so rapidly and without warning after his apparent good health just weeks ago.