4 Nov 2021

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of 15 Senators and members of Congress sent a letter to President Biden urging him to prioritize the release of Kai Li, a US citizen serving a 10-year prison sentence in China since 2016 on trumped up charges of “espionage” and “stealing state secrets”.

The letter makes extensive references to a decision from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention earlier this year, which, among other things, stated that there was no legal basis for the arrest of Li, a businessman who, according to his son, was a small business owner who served for 25 years as a marketing representative for Spectrolab, Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing.

The renewed push for Li’s release comes just a few weeks after the release of two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who, like Li, were accused by the Chinese government of espionage, in cases that many observers viewed as tit-for-tat retaliation for the detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in December 2018, due to an extradition request from the United States.

The Michaels were released just hours after Ms. Meng was allowed to return to China after reaching a deal with prosecutors. As the letter notes, two American siblings, Victor and Cynthia Liu, were allowed to return to the United States following the lifting of an exit ban, just a day after Ms. Meng and the two Canadians were freed.

The congressional letter highlights poor prison conditions — described as “cruel” — and Li’s declining health in captivity. Since his arrest more than five years ago, Li was diagnosed with a small stroke, hypertension, and chronic gastritis, in addition to suffering a bout of shingles. Li’s access to nutritional supplements has also been arbitrarily restricted by prison authorities on numerous occasions, most recently in the last several weeks.

Signatories on the letter include Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), the Chair and Co-Chair, respectively, of the Congressional Executive Commission on China. They are joined by several members of Congress from Li’s home state of New York, alongside New York Senators Schumer and Gillibrand.