The wife of a Taiwanese rights activist and NGO worker jailed by the Chinese Communist Party for subversion has been denied permission to visit her husband after complaining of his mistreatment in prison.
Lee Ming-cheh, a lifelong activist with Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was sentenced by Hunan’s Yueyang Intermediate People's Court to five years in jail for "attempting to subvert state power” in November 2017.
He was accused of setting up social media chat groups to “vilify China.”
His wife Lee Ching-yu said she has been banned from visiting her husband for three months because "her public statements were inconsistent with the facts."
"Your country has stated that I disregard the facts, and that my public statements are inconsistent with the facts," Lee told the Chinese Communist Party in a news conference on Wednesday.
"I request that you make public the video footage of visits," she said. "Tell me, what lies have I told about my husband, who is locked up in one of your jails? I will be able to dismantle your lies right away."
"Humanitarian [prison] visits are the inalienable right of prisoners and their families," Lee said.
"I ask that if you don't allow me to visit, you should allow international human rights organizations and officials of [Taiwan's] Mainland Affairs Council to visit him."
Lee had previously said that her husband is being subjected to "inhumane treatment" including forced labor at Chishan Prison in the central Chinese province of Hunan.
He was also moved to a prison near Beijing, where he remained for 10 days before being taken back to Chishan, she said.
While Lee was the first resident of Taiwan, the last remaining territory of the defeated Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist government of the 1911 Republic of China, to be sentenced under draconian security laws governing overseas NGOs, he isn't the first to be incarcerated in mainland China, or to simply ‘disappear.’
An estimated 500 Taiwan nationals have gone missing, believed detained, in mainland China over the years, while more than 1,000 have been locked up for various reasons, human rights groups say.
Yang Sen-hong, president of the Taiwan Association for China Human Rights, said there are growing concerns about Lee Ming-cheh's physical well-being.
"He has lost 30 kilograms in a short space of time," Yang said. "This is definitely the result of torture."
"Whether or not he can come home sooner rather than later depends on the degree of international support," he said.
"Whenever [U.S.] congressmen or women visit Taiwan, they will always meet with Lee Ching-yu, so they are very aware of Lee Ming-cheh's situation."
Yu Mei-nu, a lawmaker for Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), called on the Chinese authorities to reinstate family visits for Lee as soon as possible.
"This would be in accordance with universal values," Yu said. "It is normal procedure for all family members of prisoners to have the right to visit them."
"They can't extend controls on freedom of speech to his family by demanding that they keep quiet after their visits, on pain of not being allowed further visits," she said.
Eeling Chiu, who heads the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, said her organization will be making representations at the United Nations during a forthcoming meeting of the Human Rights Council.
"We will be calling once again on the international community and the U.N. to show their concern for these violations of a Taiwan rights defender's right to freedom of expression, personal liberty, and humane treatment in prison," Chiu said.
"We want them to condemn this collectively."
A tense relationship
Taiwan has a tense relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which regards the island as a renegade province awaiting "unification," despite never having ruled the island.
President Tsai Ing-wen rejected calls from Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month to move towards "unification" with the People's Republic, saying its people have no wish to give up their sovereignty.
In a Jan. 2 "Letter to our Taiwan compatriots," Xi was insistent that China must be "unified," saying that China would make no promises not to use military force to take the island.
But a recent opinion poll found that more than 80 percent of Taiwanese would reject Xi's offer to rule the island via the "one country, two systems" model used for the former colonies of Hong Kong and Macau.
Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the Kuomintang (KMT) government as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.
The island began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang Kai-shek's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
Reported by Hwang Chun-mei for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.