Lee Ching-yu, the wife of imprisoned democracy activist Lee Ming-che, will attend President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night as a guest of Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). Lee Ming-che, a citizen of Taiwan, was arrested in mainland China in 2017 for “subverting state power.”
The Taiwan Association for China Human Rights (TACHR), which has long demanded Lee Ming-che’s release from prison, said on Monday that Lee Ching-yu arrived in Washington on Sunday seeking help for her husband under the Taiwan Relations Act, which specifies the preservation of human rights for Taiwanese citizens as an objective of the United States.
Chinese authorities have denied Lee Ching-yu permission to visit her husband on the grounds that she “distorted” the truth about how he has been treated in Chishan Prison after a visit in December. She said Lee Ming-che has been subjected to “inhumane treatment,” including forced labor, and has lost an alarming amount of weight – a particular concern given that he suffers from hypertension.
International human rights groups criticized China for keeping Lee Ming-che in jail for over 170 days before giving him a trial and extracting a forced confession from him, in which he claimed he was led astray about China by Taiwanese media and came to appreciate how “civilized” the mainland is after his highly educational sojourn in Chinese prison.
China has also been condemned for holding Lee incommunicado and moving him between prisons for unclear reasons and without proper notice.
Lee Ming-che, 42, has become a major point of contention between China and Taiwan, whose government joined much of the international community in demanding his release.
Lee was on a trip in March 2017 that took him through Macau and on to the mainland Chinese province of Guangdong, where he abruptly disappeared. It took ten days for the Chinese government to announce they had arrested him for “pursuing activities harmful to national security,” “subverting state power,” and “attacking Chinese society” by “encouraging multi-party rule.”
Lee allegedly colluded with a Chinese dissident to spread social media posts that “attacked and wickedly smeared the Chinese government” and promoted “Western-style” government for the communist mainland. Critics denounced his arrest as part of China’s attempt to squeeze Taiwan into obedience after the election of President Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwanese who frequently visit China for business and pleasure became understandably nervous about arbitrary arrest and detention.
“It is regrettable that the Lee Ming-che case has seriously damaged cross-strait relations and especially challenged Taiwanese people’s persistence and ideals for democracy and freedom,” Taiwanese President Tsai’s office said after Lee was sentenced to five years in prison in November 2017.
Rep. Smith, the congressman who invited Lee’s wife to the State of the Union address, strongly denounced his sentencing in November 2017 as further evidence that China will “go to great lengths to curtail even private discussions of human rights and democracy.”
“China refuses to play by international rules and will attempt to silence its critics—even those beyond its border. It is clear from this decision that anyone in China, including foreigners and foreign visitors, who are critical of the government’s efforts to curtail universally-recognized freedoms may be prosecuted for attempting to undermine the regime,” Smith warned.
Smith has held numerous hearings on human rights violations and religious persecution in China, including a July 2017 hearing at which Li Ching-yu testified. On that occasion, she referred to the Chinese government as “despotic,” compared it to a terrorist organization, and vowed the people of Taiwan would continue to resist domination by Beijing.
She said her husband’s detention is a clear violation of international law and custom, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She recounted threats made by Chinese officials against her unless she remained silent and described a letter she believes her husband was forced to sign.
“The U.S. has long been the protector of justice, freedom, and democracy everywhere. It has accepted the moral obligation to aid people deprived of their natural rights,” she said. “Therefore, I stand alone before you today to plead for your help for my husband.”