The wife of a Taiwanese democracy activist jailed in China travelled to the country on Monday after being granted permission to visit him in prison for the first time, in a case that has strained cross-strait relations.

Lee Ming-cheh in court.

NGO worker Lee Ming-cheh was sentenced to five years in prison in November on charges of subverting state power by a court in central Hunan province, as activists face increased pressure from authorities under Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Taipei has called Lee’s jailing “unacceptable” and a serious blow to relations, while his wife Lee Ching-yu has said his trial was a “political show”.

She told reporters prior to her departure Monday that she intends to pass on “messages from the free world” during her planned visit to see him in prison on Tuesday.

Her flight landed in Changsha Huanghua International Airport in Hunan province at 11:57 am (03:57 GMT), according to the airport.

Lee did not answer phone calls and messages from AFP.

Her husband was arrested in March 2017 during a trip to the mainland and held incommunicado for months.

Chinese authorities cancelled Lee Ching-yu’s mainland travel permit last April as she searched for her missing husband and later only granted her single-entry visas to attend the trial and sentencing.

Lee Ching-yu. File photo: VOA.

But in January she was barred from boarding a flight to visit Lee in Hunan’s Chishan prison.

Sharing ‘Taiwan’s democratic experiences’ 

During his trial, Lee admitted the charges, stating that he had written and distributed online articles that criticised China’s ruling Communist Party and promoted democracy.

He had shared “Taiwan’s democratic experiences” with his Chinese friends online for many years and often mailed books to them, according to the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

“While it is positive that Ms. Lee will be given access to her husband in prison, Lee Ming-cheh should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” said Maya Wang, China researcher for Human Rights Watch.

“Lee should be immediately released,” Wang said.

Amnesty International and Taiwanese rights groups have also vowed to continue pushing for Lee’s release.

Hunan’s Chishan prison did not answer calls from AFP on Monday.

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