PROMINENT Chinese human rights lawyer Li Baiguang has died under mysterious circumstances in an eastern Jiangsu province military hospital, his close friend said.

Li 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 more than a decade.

Fu said in a statement through his US-based Christian non-profit 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.

A spokesman for the hospital said he had not heard of Li’s case.

“I do not know who this person is,” the spokesman added, saying that death and causes of death are a “private matter”.

William Nee, a China researcher for Amnesty International, said: “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.”