Lee Ming-che has been detained by Beijing authorities amid a targeting of activists, dissidents and scholars based abroad
The wife of a Taiwanese human rights activist detained in China for over a month without charge has vowed to take her fight for justice to the US and European Union, urging them to pressure Beijing to release him.
It has now been 40 days since Lee Ching-yus partner, best friend and confidante suddenly disappeared while travelling to visit friends in Guangzhou, southern China.
Beijing, which views democratic Taiwan as a renegade province, admitted only after 10 days that Lee Ming-che, 42, a community college worker known for supporting human rights, had been detained for allegedly threatening national security.
He is feared to be the latest victim of an escalation in Chinas repression of rights and free speech.
It is only through international support that we can force a country that encroaches on human rights to stop this action, Lee Ching-yu told The Guardian in her first interview with the British press. She intends to seek help in Washington DC and Brussels next month.
Under standard Chinese criminal law, Lees husband should have been charged or released on Monday, after 37 days in custody.
Instead, her hopes of a speedy resolution were shattered on Wednesday when Chinas Taiwan affairs office announced that Lee was still under investigation, that his health was good, and that he has clearly explained the relevant situation to his family in a letter.
The letter, which contained scant information, was delivered in early April by an unofficial middleman Lee Ching-yu did not know whether to trust.
It was my husbands handwriting but he made no connection with me, she said. He did not write that letter voluntarily.
Lee, also 42, has struggled largely alone, with the support of a few local activists, to uncover the truth.
With little government support, she has fended off unidentified brokers offering help through unofficial channels.
One suggested her silence and inaction might buy her husbands freedom, or at least spare him the humiliation of a video confession. But Lee has refused to strike a backroom deal.
She is defiant but the strain of her ordeal has made her visibly more gaunt and she frequently fights back tears. I have to keep a strong face in front of the media, but when I see my husbands photo I get very emotional, she said.
The couple met at college 20 years ago and were drawn to each other through a shared passion for human rights.
Lee Ching-yu became a researcher at the Shin Ming-te foundation, studying the history of Taiwans own dark period of martial law, when thousands were disappeared. Her work both gives her strength and haunts her. I can imagine what my husband might have gone through, she said.
Lee Ming-che kept his human rights work low key. Supporters believe he may have been targeted after speaking openly on Chinese messaging service WeChat about Taiwanese democracy.
The values and beliefs that my husband holds and spreads would not be charged in any democratic or civilised country, said Lee.
She broke down describing how he had tried to help the poverty-stricken families of Chinese activists, imprisoned for their beliefs.
At least I know my husband is alive, she said. Others who disappear dont receive the same media attention and they might be in more danger. When I realise how severe the situation in China is, its hard to stay calm.
Lee has approached the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances for help.
Her husbands case has been complicated by Taiwans lack of international clout and by frozen diplomatic ties between Taipei and Beijing over Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wens refusal to endorse Chinas view that the self-governed island and mainland are part of a single Chinese nation.
Taiwans government maintains it is working behind the scenes to resolve Lees case, but local NGOs argue they could do more.
Mrs Lee is already standing so strongwe need support from the government, not only to just keep it low key, said E-Ling Chiu, head of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.
Many fear Lee may have fallen foul of a harsh new Chinese law to monitor and control foreign-funded NGOs, enforced earlier this year as part of a crackdown on civil society.
The environment for foreign and domestic human rights NGOs had become treacherous, said Maya Wang an Asia researcher with Human Rights Watch.
The case of Mr Lee fits within the greater pattern of a new trend of the Chinese government targeting activists, dissidents, or even scholars based abroad, she said. All of these cases deserve equal press and attention.
However, Lee may also have become a pawn in internal Chinese politics by factions opposed to President Xi Jinpings perceived mild approach to Taiwan, ventured Michael Cole, a Taipei-based political analyst.
It would be difficult for Xi to back down while demonstrating strength over Taiwan, he said. Equally, Tsai had to tread cautiously.
It would not serve Mr Lees interests if she came out guns blazing. Ultimately his case is part of something thats much bigger.
Originally published at: http://www.theguardian.com/us