Concerns Grow For Taiwan Activist Serving Jail Term in China

2019-03-21
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Taiwan NGO worker Lee Ming-chech is shown at his trial in China in an undated photo.
Taiwan NGO worker Lee Ming-chech is shown at his trial in China in an undated photo.
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Two years after his initial 'disappearance' on March 19, 2017, Taiwan rights activist Lee Ming-cheh has endured ill-treatment and is suffering declining health in prison, a rights group says.

"Since then, Lee has endured ill-treatment and deteriorating health; according to his wife ... he has lost 30 kilograms," the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported.

"Authorities froze his commissary account, necessary to buy better food, after two unnotified and unexplained prison transfers, and does not allow his wife to send items, including clothing," it said.

It said Lee is also prohibited from sending letters or receiving a phone card or books, even those that meet government approval.

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.”

Under China's Prison Law, prisoners are entitled to family visits at least once a month, but Lee Ching-yu has only been allowed to visit her husband six times since his sentence began, and has been turned back at the Chinese border four times, HRW said.

Authorities banned Lee Ching-yu from visiting her husband in January after she spoke out about his treatment in Chishan Prison in the central Chinese province of Hunan, following her most recent visit last December.

"[They claimed] public statements she made following her last visit in December had 'disrupted the prison’s standard operations for upholding the law and impeded [Li’s] reformation'," HRW said.

U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom Sam Brownback called for Lee’s release during a visit to Taipei on March 12.

"Since 2016, the Chinese government has forcibly disappeared and prosecuted citizens of other countries for helping Chinese activists or speaking critically of the government, including Swedish activist Peter Dahlin, British bookseller Lee Bo, and Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai, whose whereabouts remain unknown," HRW said.

'A very strange experience in Stockholm'

Media reports emerged this week that Sweden's former ambassador to China has been appointed a criminal lawyer in an ongoing investigation of her 'secret' meeting with the daughter of imprisoned bookseller Gui Minhai, the details of which were reported on Angela Gui's blog.

Anna Lindstedt was recalled from her post after Angela Gui accused the diplomat of having invited her to a "very strange" meeting with Chinese businessmen who claimed they could assist Gui's father. Sweden's foreign ministry said it had not been informed of the meeting in advance.

She is now under investigation for "crimes against the security of the realm," Swedish media reported, cited court documents.

Lindstedt's lawyer was quoted as saying that Lindstedt denies the allegations and welcomes the investigation.

In her article, Angela Gui recounted "a very strange experience in Stockholm" after she was contacted by Lindstedt, who set up a meeting with two unnamed businessmen to discuss her father's case.

"What I thought was going to be a meeting about the Swedish government’s latest efforts to win my father’s release turned out to something quite different," she wrote, detailing a meeting in which her movements were restricted to a hotel VIP lounge.

During the meeting she was also quizzed about her personal life, and then asked not to speak out about her father's case if she wanted it to be resolved at an unspecified point in the future.

Sweden's foreign ministry said at the time that the meeting was unofficial, and that it knew nothing about it.

More than three years after he was taken to mainland China from his holiday home in Thailand under murky circumstances, Gui Minhai—a Hong Kong-based publisher with Swedish nationality—is believed to be detained in the eastern port city of Ningbo on suspicion of "leaking state secrets overseas."

Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Han Jie for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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