The wife of a Taiwanese rights activist and NGO worker jailed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party for subversion last year is in Brussels in a bid to put more pressure on Beijing for his better treatment in prison and ultimate release.
Lee Ming-cheh, a lifelong activist with Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party, was sentenced by Hunan’s Yueyang Intermediate People's Court to five years in jail for "attempting to subvert state power” last November.
He was accused of setting up social media chat groups to “vilify China.”
Now, his wife Lee Ching-yu is on a mission to the European Union in the hope of drumming up international support for Lee, according to Eeling Chiu, a Taiwan rights activist who is accompanying her.
“We met with the chair and deputy chair of the European Parliament sub-committee on human rights, as well as the chair of the sub-committee for security and defense,” Eeling Chiu, who heads the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, told RFA. “Also with MEPs from the Czech Republic and Spain.”
“The European Parliament has passed two resolutions already, so everyone is paying attention to this case,” she said.
Chiu said Lee Ching-yu is concerned about her husband’s health in prison and his right to communicate with the outside world, as well as securing permission from Beijing for her to travel to mainland China to visit him.
Plea for support
Lee is also calling on the international community to write letters to her husband n prison, to offer him emotional support, she said.
“Mrs. Lee is extremely worried about Li Ming-cheh’s health, because it is 15 degrees colder in Chishan Prison [in Hunan] than in Taiwan,” Chiu said. “It is a very cold place, probably about as cold as Brussels right now.”
“She is very worried because Lee Ming-cheh has high blood pressure, and about whether he will be able to tolerate the lower temperatures,” she said. “She has written more than 20 letters to him, but she hasn’t received a single reply, so she doesn’t know whether Lee Ming-cheh is even receiving the letters that she and the other family members are sending.”
“She also worries that Lee Ming-cheh won’t have received any of the messages people are sending to him from the outside world, and about his state of mental and emotional health,” Chiu added.
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, Chiu said he is far from the first to be incarcerated in mainland China, or to simply ‘disappear.’
She said 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.
Lee Ching-yu is also concerned because of Chishan Prison’s reputation for torturing adherents of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, which the ruling Chinese Communist Party has designated an “evil cult.”
Chiu said she and Lee Ching-yu held a celebratory meal at a restaurant in Brussels run by a Taiwan independence activist who was formerly blacklisted by the KMT for his views, to mark Lee Ming-cheh’s birthday.
“It was very good food indeed, and Lee Ching-yu said she was very moved,” Chiu said. “She said she never managed to make such good food when she used to make a bento for Lee Ming-cheh.”
“She said she wanted to learn the recipe for the hot and sour soup, so that she could one day make it for Lee Ming-cheh, in the hope that he would be released soon,” Chiu said.
Taiwan began its transition to democracy following the death of 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 the island's president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
Recent opinion polls indicate that there is broad political support for de facto self-rule in Taiwan, where the majority of voters identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.
But while the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled the island, Beijing regards it as part of Chinese territory and has threatened to invade if Taiwan seeks formal independence or separate statehood.
Reported by Hwang Chun-mei for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.