Visiting U.S. ambassador calls on China to release Taiwanese activist

2019/03/12 20:36:06 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
Sam Brownback (left) and Lee Ching-yu (李凈瑜).

Sam Brownback (left) and Lee Ching-yu (李凈瑜).

Taipei, March 12 (CNA) A visiting U.S. official responsible for religious freedom urged the Chinese government Tuesday to release jailed Taiwanese democracy activist Lee Ming-che (李明哲), who is serving a five-year-prison term in China on charges of subversion of state power.

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback who is visiting Taiwan for a regional religious freedom forum, the first of its kind, made the call during a press briefing in Taipei after a meeting with Lee's wife Lee Ching-yu (李凈瑜).

Lee Ming-che has been detained in China since March 2017 and has been serving a five-year prison term since November 2017 after being convicted of subversion of state power.

Since then, his wife has been visiting worldwide human rights watchdogs to rally support to jointly call on Beijing for his swift release.

During Tuesday's briefing, which he attended with Lee Ching-yu, Brownback said this is the second time in less than two months he has met with her. The previous meeting was in February, when Lee Ching-yu visited Washington, D.C.

Describing the case as being of high concern for the U.S. government, he said a human rights activist like Lee Ming-che should not be incarcerated and should be set free, especially as he is in deteriorating health.

According to Lee Ching-yu, Lee Ming-che has lost around 30 kilograms, is subjected to forced labor and fed spoiled food in a prison in Hunan Province. She has not been able to meet her husband since December 2018, her last visit to the prison.

"This is not something that is happening to him only but to every prisoner in that prison," she said.

She expressed gratitude over the U.S. government's concern for her husband's incarceration, but warned that this kind of threat over human right activists does not target only Taiwan but the whole world.

The U.S. official affirmed that the U.S. believes that Lee Ming-che should be set free, while calling on the Chinese government to release him.

Asked about what concrete plan the U.S. has to persuade China to release Lee, Brownback said the U.S. continues to look at "additional concrete steps if action is not taken (on China's part)."

He said the standard operating procedure on the U.S. side concerning such cases is that Washington will first try to solve the issue "quietly and privately."

"If that does not work, we will raise public pressure on the case. If that does not work, then we take the next step, which is often to look at what specific action we can take," he said.

He used as an example the case of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was detained in Turkey for nearly two years over alleged links to political groups.

The U.S. government later imposed sanctions on Turkey over the case until the latter ultimately released the pastor in October 2018.

In the case of Lee, Brownback said that currently, the U.S. is still at the stage of raising awareness over his imprisonment to create pressure on China.

He admitted that he is "deeply concerned" about Lee's rapidly deteriorating condition.

This is the first time Brownback has visited Taiwan. The three-day-trip is scheduled to conclude Wednesday.

According to Taiwan's foreign ministry, Brownback was a strong supporter of Taiwan long before he assumed office as U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom Feb. 1, 2018.

He was a member of the Senate Taiwan Caucus and received a Taiwanese agricultural mission when he served as governor of Kansas, the ministry said.

(By Joseph Yeh)

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