Family members are demanding an independently-conducted autopsy following the mysterious death of a long-term jailed Christian and outspoken human rights activist.

Peng Ming, who established organisations and publications advocating development and democratic reforms, allegedly fainted on 29th November in Xianning Prison in Hubei Provence while watching television.

Officials phoned his brother, who had visited Mr Peng just three days before, and relayed the news to him, according to Christians familiar with the case. By the time he reached the hospital, his brother had reportedly already been declared dead and was transferred to a funeral home.

His sister, who lives in California, said she received a phone call from her living brother, but she only heard heavy breathing. After a few seconds, officials reportedly took the phone from his hands and relayed their version of events to her.

However, "the cause and details of his death are not shared with us. No death certificate is issued," said Peng's family in a statement seen by BosNewsLife this week. "He had been illegally arrested in May, 2004, and subsequently sentenced to life in prison for his advocacy of human rights, democracy, environmentalism, and freedom."

The family said it has three requests including receiving "viewing rights of his body for all family members" after Chinese officials reportedly warned overseas relatives not to attend the funeral.

Family members also demand an "autopsy by an international, independent medical authority acceptable to the family". Otherwise, "no autopsy is requested. An autopsy by the government of China is not acceptable to the family," the family stressed.

Thirdly, they want to see the "return to his family of all of Peng Ming's personal possessions".

"Our family is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our loving father, son, brother, and uncle, and someone who has served as a source of hope for many others throughout his life," the family added. "At this moment, we request privacy for our family. We are deeply grateful for the support we have received, and we thank you for your thoughts and prayers."

Instead of flowers, donations may be made to ChinaAid, an advocacy group, "in memory of Mr Peng Ming" the family explained.

His death ended a difficult life. After the government banned his 'China Development Union' advoacy group, Peng received a sentence of 18 months of re-education-through-labor on a charge unrelated to his political activities.

In August 2000, he was released and fled to Thailand with his family, where they were granted refugee status until they resettled in the US a year later. There, Mr Peng was baptised in a San Francisco church in July, 2002.

When Mr Peng returned to Thailand in 2004 to visit his aging parents, Chinese special agents devised a plan to lure him into Myanmar and abduct him back to China, according to rights activists. "Once he arrived in his homeland, he was charged with organising and leading a terrorist organisation, kidnapping and possessing counterfeit money," explained ChinaAid, which supports reportedly persecuted Christians in China. "He was given a life sentence."

Mr Peng's case made world headlines and sparked an international advocacy campaign for his release.

Besides Mr Peng, several other Christians remain behind bars on what their supporters view as trumped up charges related to their faith or rights activities.