TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwanese human rights activists on Tuesday called on U.S. President Donald Trump to ask for the release of a man charged with political crimes in China during his visit to Beijing this week.
Trump should raise the case of Lee Ming-che when meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping following his arrival in the Chinese capital on Wednesday, activists told The Associated Press.
"We think U.S. government departments and especially the president at the top should express their concern," said Chiu Yi-ling, a representative from an alliance of more than 10 Taiwanese rights groups that organized a campaign pressing for Lee's release that kicked off Tuesday. "The president should express his views."
The 42-year-old Lee disappeared on a trip to China in March and showed up at a court hearing in the southern city of Changsha in September. Supporters in Taiwan say he was forced to plead guilty to subverting state power and faces up to 10 years in prison at a sentencing hearing expected later this month.
In June the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China added Lee to a database of people it considers political prisoners.
"We of course hope from a human rights point of view that the United States, as one of the world's most important rights defenders, will pay attention not just to the Lee Ming-che case, but possibly bring up others" in meetings with Xi, said Huang Yi-bee, chief executive officer with rights group Covenants Watch.
Lee, a university program manager and former employee of Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, is accused in China of using social media since 2012 to teach mainland Chinese citizens about Taiwan's multi-party democracy. He also managed a fund for families of political prisoners in China.
Lee's case has strained already stalemated relations between authoritarian, communist-ruled China and self-governing democratic Taiwan. China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, cut off ties with the island's government shortly after the election of independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen last year.
The prosecution has raised concerns about the security of the hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese who reside in China or travel there on a regular basis for business, education or cultural exchanges. It's viewed not only as a warning to would-be overseas democracy activists, but also as part of Beijing's campaign of increasing diplomatic and economic pressure on Tsai's administration to compel her to acquiesce to its political demands.
At Tuesday's kick-off event, organizers stood under a tree festooned with ribbons to chant "Lee Ming-che is innocent" and "Free Lee Ming-che."
"No matter what laws China uses, the Lee Ming-che case needs to be closed as soon as possible," said Kao Jung-chih, director of the Taipei-based Judicial Reform Foundation.
"We think Lee Ming-che is a political prisoner," Kao said. "What he did is something we all do in our daily lives, whether it's Taiwan society or Chinese society, which is to express our own ideas and views."