Han Dingxiang (韓鼎祥), a Catholic bishop repeatedly detained in China over his loyalty to the Vatican, has died at the age of 71 while in police custody, a monitoring group said yesterday.
Han died on Sunday while being treated in a hospital for an unspecified illness, the US-based Cardinal Kung Foundation said in a statement.
It said Han was cremated within six hours of his death and buried in a public cemetery with no priests or other faithful present at the burial.
"Why were the priests of his diocese not allowed to bless his remains and, together with his faithful, to pray for this heroic shepherd and to view his body?" the statement asked.
"This is not only inhuman and atrocious but also suspicious," it said.
The group did not cite any sources for its information. It has long had close contacts with China's underground church members.
It urged the Vatican to investigate the cause of Han's death.
Han was appointed by the Vatican as bishop of Yongnian Diocese in northern China's Hebei Province, where he led underground Catholics, who reject the authority of the Chinese Catholic Church, which is controlled by the Communist Party.
China's officially atheistic government requires that Christians of all denominations worship in state-registered churches. Millions, however, worship in underground churches -- known as "house churches" because services are often held in private homes -- risking arrest, fines and official harassment.
Born on May 17, 1937, Han served 19 years in a labor camp starting in 1960, the foundation's statement said, without specifying whether that punishment was related to his religious activity.
Ordained a priest in 1986, he was made bishop in 1989 and had been under house arrest or other forms of detention for nearly eight years when he died, it said.
His family was notified of his condition only shortly before his death, the statement said.
It said Han was detained at least 11 times while serving as bishop -- the last time in November 1999.