24 Sept 2021

Following the release of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor from China just hours after the withdrawal of a US extradition request for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, Kai Li, a US citizen, remains behind bars in Shanghai’s Qingpu Prison, serving a 10-year sentence on charges of “stealing state secrets” that appear nearly identical to those levied against the Canadians.

“The fact that the two Michaels were released mere hours after Ms. Meng boarded a plane back to China —- despite Mr. Spavor being recently sentenced to 11 years in prison — shows unequivocally how the Chinese government uses vague ‘national security’ charges against foreigners for political leverage,” said Harrison Li, the son of Kai Li, 58.

“I am glad to hear that the Canadians are finally returning home; they’ve suffered unjustly for almost three years. But I worry about my father, who’s spent almost twice as long as the Michaels behind bars for the same reason, yet hasn’t gotten the same amount of attention. It’s unacceptable that the United States continues has allowed the Chinese government to arbitrarily detain one of its citizens for political gain for more than half a decade,” added Li.

Earlier this year, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that “the deprivation of liberty of Mr. Li lacks a legal basis” and that “the violations of the right to a trial and due process are of such gravity as to give Mr. Li’s deprivation of liberty and arbitrary character”.

It recommends that the Chinese government release Li immediately, in addition to providing him a right to “compensation and other reparations.” Elevated risks of COVID-19 transmission in detention centers are cited as an additional reason for the government to take “urgent action to ensure [Mr. Li’s] immediate release”.

Kai Li was first detained in September 2016. His family says he was arrested at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport on a trip to visit his family for the one-year anniversary of his mother’s passing.

After spending several months under “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL), a practice of in communicado detention widely viewed as tantamount to enforced disappearance, Li was held at a pre-trial detention center for over two years before being sentenced to 10 years in prison, a 50,000 RMB fine, and deportation.

As with Spavor’s 11-year prison sentence handed down last month, Li’s sentence did not specify whether deportation would occur before, during, or after the prison sentence.

According to his family, Li suffered a stroke sometime last year, and has complained about an irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure. He reports being able to sleep only 3-4 hours a night due to the prison conditions.