The grieving family of a Chinese Christian woman is demanding answers after she suddenly died while in detention for her faith.
Bitter Winter, a magazine documenting persecution in China, reports that Xiao Li, a believer from The Church of Almighty God (CAG), was arrested at 10 a.m. on December 19, 2018, at an apartment she rented in Xingyang city in Central China's Henan Province.
Upon her arrest, police seized a computer, hard drive, and other items from her home and took her to the local police station. The next morning, officials informed Xiao Li's family of her sudden death without any explanation and directed them to go to a funeral home in the city.
Suspecting police used torture to extract a confession, Xiao Li's relatives demanded that the police retrieve and provide surveillance video of her interrogation.
After postponing the viewing for several days, police finally showed the surveillance video to family members. Footage showed Xiao Li continuously restrained on a "tiger bench" - a typical Chinese method of torture where the victim is forced to sit on an iron bench with their knees tied together - and wearing handcuffs.
In the video, which did not include audio, Xiao Li went to the bathroom a total of seven times, and each time, her state deteriorated, Bitter Winter reports. The final time, she fell to the floor and never got up again - and police did not take any measures to revive her.
Xiao Li's relatives explained she had always been in excellent physical health and questioned why would she suddenly die within 24 hours of being interrogated.
According to the numbers provided by The Church of Almighty God, in 2018, at least 10,809 CAG members were arrested by the authorities, at least 16 have died. Xiao Li was previously arrested in 2012, and, prior to that, the police had been tracking her for days.
China is ranked at No. 27 on Open Door USA's World Watch List of 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, marking the country's highest-ever spike on the list. Last year, China ranked at No. 43, reflecting a tightening of religious belief across the country.
In February 2018, new regulations regarding religion took effect in China to help "block extremism." Numerous stories of officials shuttering down churches, arresting believers, and even trying to rewrite the Bible emerged throughout 2018 as a result.
In December, the U.S. government announced that China is among the 10 worst violators of religious freedom in the world.
"My particular concern now for China is they've increased these actions of persecution against the faith community," Sam Brownback, Washington's ambassador at large for international religious freedom, said at the time. "China isn't backing away from the religious persecution; it seems to be expanding. This is obviously very troubling."