The wife of a Taiwanese democracy activist jailed in China condemned Beijing on Tuesday after she was banned from visiting him in prison for three months in a case that has strained cross-strait ties.

NGO worker Lee Ming-che was sentenced to five years in prison in November 2017 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.

lee ming cheh
Lee Ming-cheh speaks with Lee Ching-yu after the trial. File Photo: Screenshot/Yueyang Intermediate People’s Court.

Lee was arrested in March that year during a trip to the mainland and held incommunicado for months.

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

After visiting him in jail, Lee Ching-yu publicly criticised prison conditions last month saying her husband had lost weight because food was often rotten, that he was denied warm clothing and had to work over ten hours daily.

On Tuesday she said she had since been temporarily banned from seeing her husband because of the criticism, citing a notice from prison authorities who accused her of a “serious distortion of the facts”.

“Lee Ming-che is a prisoner of conscience,” she told reporters.

Lee Ming-cheh
Lee Ming-cheh in court.

“I only truthfully recounted what I saw and heard about his situation,” she said.

“I remember he asked me urgently… to ‘go everywhere and tell everybody’ of his treatment in prison,” she added.

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.

Lee Ching-yu urged the Chinese government to allow international rights groups and the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s top China policy-making body, to visit her husband if she was now banned.

Amnesty International and Taiwanese rights groups have maintained that Lee is innocent and called for his immediate release.

“When families can’t visit (Lee) in prison, we are most worried that he could be subject to torture or other inhumane treatment,” said Annie Huang, Amnesty International Taiwan’s acting section director.

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