The wife of a Taiwanese rights activist and NGO worker jailed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party for subversion last year says the mainland Chinese authorities are mistreating him 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 told a news conference on Monday that her husband is being subjected to "inhumane treatment" including forced labor at Chishan Prison in the central Chinese province of Hunan.
Lee Ching-yu, who recently traveled to Hunan to visit Lee Ming-cheh, said she had been refused permission to see him on her most recent trip. Family members are typically allowed a monthly visit to loved-ones under China's penal system.
"The Chishan Prison violated the [rules] formulated by the Chinese authorities themselves," Lee Ching-yu said. "[The rules] state that prison labor should be limited to eight hours a day, five days a week, with one day of study and one day of rest."
"Lee Ming-cheh works for more than ten hours a day, without a rest day. The so called 'reform through labor' in prison is no different from a sweatshop," she said.
She said the authorities have frozen Lee Ming-cheh's personal account at the prison store, meaning he has been unable to supplement his diet with extra food, or to buy warm clothing and personal necessities.
Chen Hui-min, a member of the Taiwan-based rights group Prison Watch, called on Beijing to release Lee Ming-cheh immediately.
"There was a criminal case involving a British national who was transferred back to the U.K. to serve their sentence because the conditions in Taiwan prisons were too poor," Chen said. "In the same manner, we think the Taiwan government should take Lee Ming-cheh back."
"We call on China to allow Lee Ming-cheh to return home, and for everyone to continue paying attention to his situation," Chen said.
Economics or politics
Yu Mei-nu, a lawmaker for Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), hit out at the political rhetoric used by newly elected nationalist Kuomintang mayor Han Kuo-yu, who took control of the DPP heartland of Kaohsiung last month on a platform of increased business ties with China.
"Actually we have seen this policy of a bit more economics and a bit less politics ... but are human rights politics or economics," Yu said. "What use are economic ties if having them means I no longer have my human rights?"
"People who call for [more] business ties with China should be mindful of that," she said. "What use is money if you lose your soul?"
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, activists say he is far from the first to be incarcerated in mainland China, or to simply ‘disappear.’
Rights groups estimate that 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.
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 Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.