Thu. May 23rd, 2024

For Americans detained in China, a return home could depend on better ties

By 37ci3 Apr26,2024



HONG KONG – Nelson Wells Jr. he spent almost ten years in prison Demon.

In May 2014, he visited the American country JapanHe went to the address where he lives with his wife and three children to get medical help for the head injury he received during the traffic accident. He was arrested on charges of trying to smuggle drugs out of the country while departing from Chungking, China.

Wells, now 50, was initially sentenced to life in prison after being convicted without an opportunity to tell his side of the story and with little evidence of his guilt or his family. says in its website. In 2019, his sentence was reduced to 22 years without taking into account the time already served.

In brief phone calls, his family notes his deteriorating health: high blood pressure, dramatic weight loss, mental health issues, and seizures they believe are related to his accident.

“He’s hanging on by a thread,” Wells’ mother, Cynthia Wells, 69, told NBC News in an interview last week from the family’s home in Louisiana.

As Secretary of State Anthony Blinken American families like Wells, who visited China this week for the second time in less than a year as part of an effort to stabilize the fragile relationship between the world’s two largest economies, had more to worry about: when, or if, their loved ones arrested would come home in China.

The situation of Americans detained in China is complicated by the lack of a bilateral prisoner extradition agreement between the two countries.

The Wells family gained new hope when they learned of a law China passed in 2018, which allows the process of transferring foreign detainees to facilities in their home country on medical, humanitarian or compassionate grounds, without the need for a bilateral agreement on a case-by-case basis.

Wells’ father, Nelson Wells Sr., described the law as “promising” — while young Wells is still in a U.S. prison, he will be closer to his family, have access to health care and education services, and possibly be able to provide early. release Wells Sr. said all the family had to do was start a discussion with the U.S. government about its case with China.

“It’s just a matter of hacking it, applying it, and someone saying, ‘Okay, listen, let’s give it a shot,'” he said.

Early last month, Nelson and Cynthia Wells traveled to Washington for a series of meetings with their representatives in Congress, the State Department, the Justice Department and others to see what might be possible. They went away disheartened.

“They said, ‘It’s not going to work,'” said Wells Sr., 68.

A State Department spokesman said the United States has “no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad.” The State Department has not determined that Wells was wrongfully detained, but he is regularly visited by US consular officials who monitor his treatment, health and safety, most recently in January, a spokeswoman said.

Blinken said Friday that he is filing cases of wrongfully detained or American citizens subject to exit bans during his visit to China this week.

“President Biden and I will not rest until they and their families are back where they belong,” he told reporters in Beijing.

The Justice Department told NBC News they were aware of the Wells case but declined to comment on Chinese law.

Louisiana Senators Bill Cassidy and John F. Kennedy’s offices and the Speaker’s office Mike JohnsonWells, representing the region of the family, did not respond to requests for comment.

“China is governed by the rule of law, its judiciary handles all cases in accordance with the law, and there is absolutely no such thing as ‘illegal detention,'” a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday. Justice did not respond to a request for comment.

“You can’t tell me that these things in front of us can’t work. I’m not a ‘can’t’ guy,” Wells Sr. said. “I’m the kind of guy that if you sit down and put your mind to it, there are ways we can make it happen.”

A starting point for cooperation

Peter Humphrey, a former British journalist and corporate investigator who spent two years in a Chinese prison after being convicted on trumped-up charges of illegal intelligence gathering, said he estimated about 300 Americans were detained or imprisoned based on his research. In China, many of them are for non-political crimes that carry harsher penalties than in the United States.

Although China defends its judicial system as fair and impartial, Humphrey and other critics say due process rights are often violated in Chinese courts, which are controlled by the ruling Communist Party.

During a visit to Beijing last June, Blinken told CBS News that the U.S. and China are “actively talking” about three Americans who Washington has said have been wrongfully imprisoned for years: David Lin, Kai Li and Mark Swidan.

Harrison Lee, his father, Kai LeeImprisoned in China since 2016 on espionage charges, he said he was not aware of any “meaningful progress”. Since Blinken’s last trip to China, and “the biggest challenge we face as families trying to advocate for our loved ones is the bureaucracy in our own country.”

“It’s dangerous to get our hopes up, but we’re obviously hoping for the best,” he said on Tuesday ahead of Blinken’s visit.

A State Department spokesman declined to comment on ongoing efforts to bring home Lee and other Americans believed to be illegally detained in China, citing the sensitive nature of the talks.

The Biden administration is also grappling with the detention of Americans in Russia, where high-profile cases include former Marines. Paul Whelan and journalist Evan Gershkovich. WNBA star Brittney Griner was was released in exchange for an arms dealer In December 2022, nearly a year after he was arrested in Russia on drug charges, he said bringing cannabis oil into the country was the result of an “honest mistake.”

“We’ve been able to get people from them, but we can’t seem to get anyone from China,” Wells Sr. said.

The U.S. and China currently have little judicial cooperation, but the extradition of prisoners like Wells “is an area that the U.S. needs to pay attention to,” said James Zimmerman, an American lawyer based in Beijing who has been to China more. For over 25 years and advising the Wells family.

“This could be an easy way to start judicial cooperation between the two countries because the risks are low,” he said. “It’s really based on reciprocity, but if an agreement is reached or a contract is worked out, you can set safeguards on how the mechanics will work.”

Humphrey, who also worked with the Wells family, said Chinese law has been successfully used to repatriate prisoners from France. But the U.S. government may not want to use it, he said, “because they fear what China might demand behind the scenes.”

Zimmerman said the U.S. may be concerned that Chinese nationals in American prisons could in turn be pressured by Chinese authorities to say they want to be sent back to China as part of the transfer process, which requires the deportee’s consent.

“But at the end of the day, the benefits will be for the citizens, the U.S. citizens who are currently in Chinese prisons, a long, long way from their families,” he said.

Although the United States and China are fighting over a number of issues, Wells and other families hope their loved ones’ names are in the spotlight during Blinken’s visit.

“I want him to bring Nelson Wells Jr. home,” Wells Sr. said. “That’s what I want.”



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