US religious freedom envoy urges China to release Taiwanese activist

US Ambassador for religious freedom, Sam Brownback speaks during ‘A Civil Society Dialogue on Securing Religious Freedom in the Indo-Pacific Region’ forum in Taipei, Taiwan on March 11, 2019. (Reuters pic)

TAIPEI: The US ambassador for religious freedom on Tuesday called for the release of a Taiwan activist jailed in China, saying the case was highly concerning to the US government.

Sam Brownback said activist Li Ming-che, a community college lecturer and an activist at a human rights non-governmental organisation in Taiwan, should be reunited with his wife.

“We call on the government of China to release him back to her and Taiwan,” Brownback said, referring to the activist’s wife, Li Ching-yu, who warned the international community to pay attention to China’s human rights record.

Li Ching-yu said Chinese authorities had repeatedly rejected her requests to visit her husband.

“Taiwan’s not alone. The world is also facing China’s threats on human rights,” she said.

Li Ming-che, who disappeared while visiting China in 2017, was found guilty of subversion that year in a trial that his wife denounced as illegitimate.

He admitted during his trial to having criticised China’s ruling Communist Party and to having shared articles and arguments promoting Taiwan’s multi-party democracy.

Beijing claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own and has vowed to bring the island under Chinese control, by force if necessary.

Brownback’s visit to Taipei has been viewed by some in Taiwan as a sign of support from US President Donald Trump’s administration amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing.

On Monday, Brownback again urged China to give its people religious freedom, a reform he said could help gain trust from self-ruled Taiwan.

Taiwan authorities are in talks on a possible stopover in US territory as part of a visit by President Tsai Ing-wen to Palau, Nauru and the Marshall Islands next week, a government official said on Tuesday, a stop that would likely anger Beijing.