Lee Ching-yu, the wife of jailed Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-che, vowed to continue fighting for her husband’s release from a Chinese prison on Wednesday.
He was imprisoned for his efforts to help political dissidents jailed by China and promote multi-party democracy on the mainland.
“My efforts to rescue him will not stop,” Lee Ching-yu said after visiting her husband at the Chishan prison in China’s Hunan province.
She said she found him in good health but added authorities banned him from writing letters to her from prison and seized many of the books she sent him. It was the first time she has been allowed to visit him since a Chinese court gave him a five-year sentence in November for “subverting state power.”
Lee Ming-che’s “offenses” included promoting robust multi-party “Western-style” (or perhaps more to the point, Taiwan-style) democracy for mainland China on social media platforms. His freedom has become a major cause in Taiwan, where President Tsai Ing-wen has called for his release and warned that China’s persecution of the activist is damaging cross-strait relations.
“How can a small nation like Taiwan tolerate people who have vastly different ideas, but a large country like China cannot stomach even one individual like Lee?” asked Taiwan’s former Mainland Affairs Council chief Katharine Chang on Wednesday, as she assumed leadership of the Straits Exchange Foundation and insisted Beijing must do more than merely grant Lee’s wife the odd jailhouse visit over the next five years.
“Lee Ming-che should not have to spend a day in jail, since everything he did—peacefully discuss current events and historical issues on social media—is expressly protected under international law,” William Nee of Amnesty International said at the time of his sentencing.
But into jail Lee went, his sentence clearly intended as a warning shot against other activists at a time when Chinese President Xi Jinping is assuming dictatorial powers and demanding unchallenged authority. Beijing is eager to send the message to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other semi-autonomous or restless areas that “Western-style democracy” will never be in the cards.
Lee’s “trial” in September was a disgusting stage-managed farce built around a forced confession, as described by the South China Morning Post:
The trial lasted only four hours. The defendants were not allowed to retain their own lawyers or meet before trial with Lee’s wife and her advisers. Their court-appointed lawyers did not conduct any investigation to obtain evidence or present any defence witnesses.
Yet the trial was webcast, so that Lee—the first Taiwanese to be convicted of human rights activity in China—could be seen confessing to participating in a “criminal organisation” that incited web users to spread articles that “vilified and defamed China’s socialist system”.
Lee expressed regret, claiming that he had been misled by Western media reports biased against China, and that his detention had brought him a new understanding of China’s true development and progress. He also expressed appreciation for the “civilised manner” of China’s law enforcement in protecting his personal safety. To atone for his wrongdoings, he pledged that, upon returning home, he would contribute to China’s long-sought unification with Taiwan.
Lee was not formally arrested or charged for his thoughtcrimes; he simply disappeared in March while visiting China’s Guangdong province. His September 11 show trial was the first time his wife had seen him in six months. The Chinese government canceled her travel permit while she was frantically searching for him, and only rarely allows her into the country on single-visit visas to this day.
The Chinese government timed Lee Ming-che’s trial to occur while Lee Ching-yu was on a trip to Switzerland to address the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. She had to send others to the meeting in her place so she could attend the trial.
“I earnestly request everyone to keep on paying attention to Lee Ming-che. For as long as he is in jail, as long as he is not free, my efforts to rescue him will not stop,” Lee Ching-yu said from Taipei after returning from her visit to the jail.