How a Long Island man ended up in a Chinese prison on espionage charges


It was the summer season of 2016, and Li was about to renew his research at Harvard. After dropping him off, his father returned to Long Island, the place he was making last preparations for his personal journey to Shanghai.

Kai Li was born in Shanghai, and he was returning to town for a ceremony to mark the one-year anniversary of his mom’s dying. However when his airplane landed, he was met not by his household, however state safety brokers — starting a years-long ordeal that resulted, in July 2018, in him being sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage.

The Li household maintains that the charges are trumped up and politically motivated. The case, which was held behind closed doorways and has not been broadly publicized, revolves round supposed state secrets and techniques that Li and his lawyer argue are freely out there on-line, in addition to communications with the United States authorities which can be routine for individuals doing cross-border enterprise.

In a letter to President Donald Trump in January, a number of US lawmakers denounced Li’s “arbitrary detention” and urged Washington to do extra to foyer for his launch.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t reply to a faxed request for remark from CNN on the case.

Political prosecution

Kai Li seemed to be an American success story. Born in Shanghai in 1962, he emigrated to the US aged 27 to review, and later grew to become an American citizen. A pure entrepreneur, he opened two fuel stations on Long Island and in addition a export enterprise, serving as a wholesale purchaser and distributor of photo voltaic cells and associated applied sciences for main US aerospace companies. China is among the many largest producers of photo voltaic tools in the world.

For his export enterprise, Li repeatedly traveled to the nation to satisfy with shoppers, in addition to to go to his prolonged household.

“My father would visit China a couple of times a year, for two or three weeks at a time,” Harrison Li stated. “He’s been doing that for 20-plus years.”

Prior to being detained by state safety on the airport in Shanghai, Harrison Li stated the household had no thought something could be amiss. While the motivation behind the case is unclear, Kai Li has since instructed to his son that it might have been prompted by a enterprise rival looking for to get him in bother with the authorities.

China’s justice system is especially opaque — particularly in terms of instances concerning state safety. No particulars about Li’s case have been revealed in China, both by the court docket or state media. Li’s eventual trial was held behind closed doorways, with out US officers current.

For two months, Li was held in residential surveillance at a designated location, an extralegal system a panel of United Nations human rights specialists has described as “tantamount to enforced disappearance,” which exposes detainees “to the risk of torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment and other human rights violations.”

During that point, US consular officers alerted Li’s household to his scenario, however had been unable to go to him. According to US lawmakers and Li’s household, he was denied entry to a lawyer throughout his preliminary detention.

For two months, he was held in a small cell, with out a mattress, pressured to sleep on the ground, fed little, and interrogated in any respect hours, Harrison Li stated. Eventually, he was transferred to a common prison and charged with furnishing Chinese state secrets and techniques to the FBI. His household maintains that ordinary enterprise actions by Li have been “grossly mischaracterized by Chinese authorities as espionage for political leverage.”

The final American to be detained on Chinese state safety charges, Sandy Phan-Gillis, was additionally accused of spying and furnishing state secrets and techniques to the FBI. Phan-Gillis was deported in 2017 after over two years in custody, together with her household and supporters constantly sustaining the charges had been “baseless.” Another American, geologist Xue Feng, was convicted on similar charges in 2010. Xue’s employer stated he had no entry to state secrets and techniques and the charges towards him had been “thoroughly flawed.” He was ultimately released in 2015.
According to the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), the trial towards Li, in July 2018, occurred in secret, and was over inside an hour. US diplomats had been prevented from attending, the CECC and Harrison Li stated.

Kai Li was ultimately sentenced to 10 years in prison, and moved to Shanghai’s Qingpu prison.

Dire situations

A futuristic-looking advanced situated in the far west of town, Qingpu prison is without doubt one of the most important detention facilities for foreigners in China. Its web site describes it as “window to showcase China’s rule of law.”
Briton Peter Humphrey, who was held in Qingpu after his 2014 conviction on contested bribery charges, stated that “from the moon, Qingpu Prison would look like a peaceful walled university campus with dorms, gardens, camphor trees, a soccer pitch and a parade ground.”
“From my level, there were a dozen concrete cell blocks with barred windows, a prison theatre, an office block, a kitchen, a boiler house and a factory,” Humphrey wrote in 2018, following his launch. “The perimeter wall bristled with razor wire and was patrolled by armed PAP (people’s armed police) guards. It could hold 5,000-6,000 prisoners. It also ‘trained’ prisoners for redistribution to other prisons.”
The prison made worldwide headlines final 12 months, when a British faculty woman found a message from inmates written inside a Christmas card.

“We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu prison China,” the message learn. “Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organization.”

The scandal pressured grocery store chain Tesco to drop its Chinese provider, although authorities in the nation denied accusations of pressured labor.

Prisoners seen inside Shanghai's notorious Qingpu prison, which has been accused of using forced labor in the past.

Humphrey stated he repeatedly witnessed beatings and prisoners being pressured to write down confessions or being held in solitary confinement. He stated he was denied medical remedy for prostate points, and fearful about his well being.

Kai Li’s well being has additionally suffered, his son stated: “In his last two calls he complained for the first time about issues with his heart, of an irregular heartbeat and occasional numbness in his arm.”

Harrison Li stated the prison physician gave his father a blood strain check and prescribed him a blood thinner, however wouldn’t reply to requests for a extra thorough medical examination.

He added that Kai Li is cautious in cellphone calls and letters, reminding his household that they’re “closely monitored.”

Kai Li in 2015 off the Long Island Sound, New York. Born in Shanghai, Li emigrated to the US in 1989 and became an American citizen.

Coronavirus issues

As nicely as coronary heart points, Harrison Li stated the coronavirus had turn out to be a concern for his father in latest months. While it’s largely below management in China, prisons have been websites of significant outbreaks in the nation and around the globe, because of crowded situations and poor sanitation.

Though thus far Kai Li has remained coronavirus free, the pandemic has affected him in different methods.

“The level of nutrition at the prison has gone down significantly,” the youthful Li stated. “There’s no longer any fruits or vegetables in the diet or even available for purchase anymore. He asked to be able to get multivitamins, or even to buy them at the commissary, but that has been rejected.”

Harrison Li stated the pandemic has additionally primarily reduce Kai Li, and different overseas prisoners, off from the surface world, with no consular visits allowed because the virus started spreading in China in January.

In an electronic mail, a US State Department official confirmed this, saying the Chinese authorities “suspended all in-person visits to detention centers and prisons on January 23, 2020 in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

“The Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and welfare of US citizens overseas,” the official added. “During this suspension, our consular officers have been able to reach most U.S. citizen prisoners serving their sentences in China by phone in lieu of in-person consular visits. The US Mission China team continues to seek access to all persons in custody, and will resume regular in-person visits to detained U.S. citizens in accordance with guidance from health authorities once the Chinese government lifts its restrictions on consular visits.”

Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been detained in China on state security charges since 2018.

‘Painful ordeal’

In a letter to Trump in February final 12 months, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and different lawmakers urged the President to be a “vociferous advocate” for Kai Li’s launch.

“This painful ordeal has gone on for far too long and caused immeasurable harm to Mr. Li and immense pain for his family in New York,” the lawmakers wrote.

At that point, negotiations had been still progressing towards a US-China trade deal. However since then, relations between the 2 international locations have taken a marked flip for the more severe — significantly because the starting of the corovanirus pandemic, which the Trump administration has sought guilty on Beijing.
“US-China negotiations seem to be hitting new lows everyday,” Harrison Li stated. He added that it was encouraging to see US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent meeting with a top Chinese diplomat in Hawaii, however whether or not these talks will end result in progress stays to be seen.

“As Secretary Pompeo has previously met with the loved ones of many Americans wrongfully detained abroad, I hope to get the opportunity to plead my father’s case to him directly in the near future,” Li added.

Kai Li is the one US citizen held on state safety charges. His son in contrast his case to that of two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who were this week officially charged with espionage. The two Canadians had been detained in 2018, following the arrest of Huawei government Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

“My father is part of a broader pattern of the Chinese government charging foreign citizens on state security charges,” Harrison Li stated. “It really highlights the danger for Americans looking to do business in China.”

People may even see headlines in regards to the two Canadians, he stated, however “this happens to Americans too.”

He fears that hazard might quickly lengthen past mainland China. The nation’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), is due to impose a national security law on Hong Kong in the coming weeks, criminalizing separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with overseas forces.

Carrie Lam, town’s chief government, has stated the legislation would guarantee “the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong,” with the proposed invoice “in line with the (city’s) rule of law.”

But Harrison Li stated it might end result in “political prosecutions.”

“(My father’s) detention illustrates that China’s national security laws are inherently arbitrary and can be used to exploit foreign citizens for political leverage,” he stated. “That’s something important for Americans to be aware of.”



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