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Taiwan human rights activist describes Chinese prison as 'sweatshop'

Lee Ming-che says international attention helped improve treatment

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Lee Ming-che with his wife, Lee Ching-yu, at his first news conference following five years of prison in China. 

Lee Ming-che with his wife, Lee Ching-yu, at his first news conference following five years of prison in China.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — At his first news conference since ending a five-year prison sentence in China, human rights activist Lee Ming-che (李明哲) described his prison in Hunan Province as a "sweatshop" Tuesday (May 10).

Lee disappeared in 2017 after crossing from Macau into China, but the communist authorities only admitted that he had been detained much later. In what was widely described as a show trial, a court sentenced him to five years in prison for subverting state power.

At his first news conference since arriving back in Taiwan on April 15, Lee said Chishan Prison was run like a factory, with inmates forced to work up to 12 hours a day even though the legal maximum was eight hours with the possibility of one hour of overtime.

In addition, Lee was only allowed to talk to a limited number of people approved by the prison authorities, Radio Taiwan International (RTI) reported. After he told his wife Lee Ching-yu (李凈瑜) about conditions inside the prison, his area was allowed one extra day off from work per week, and the hot water in the showers was fixed for the winter months.

Lee spent the final two months of his prison term in a hospital, either as a COVID-19 measure or to prevent him from revealing the latest information from inside the prison, he said. As a result of his inactivity while in the hospital, where he spent most of his time in bed watching television, he went from weighing 80 kilograms to 90, Lee told reporters.

The human rights activist confirmed that having the outside world express concern about his fate had helped him during his captivity. Over the past five years, Lee Ching-yu, who was present at his news conference, repeatedly brought attention to his plight, calling on the international community not to forget him.