By Kanishka Singh and Costas Pitas
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. State Department on Wednesday called on China to provide information regarding the whereabouts and condition of Lu Siwei, a Chinese human rights lawyer whose family has said he was sent back to China from Laos.
Lu Siwei was arrested in Laos on July 28 as he tried to travel to the United States to reunite with his wife and daughter, according to rights groups. He was detained by Lao police while boarding a train bound for Thailand, on charges of traveling on fraudulent documents.
Lu had taken on politically sensitive cases including one involving 12 Hong Kong citizens who were arrested by the Chinese coastguard in 2020 as they tried to flee on a boat to Taiwan.
Relations between Washington and Beijing have been tense in recent years over issues including human rights, the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, allegations of spying, Taiwan and trade tariffs.
“The United States condemns the forced repatriation of People’s Republic of China (PRC) national and human rights lawyer Lu Siwei to the PRC from Laos, at the request of PRC authorities,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.
“We call on (China) to confirm Lu’s current location; allow for external verification by independent observers of Lu’s well-being, including access for doctors to treat Lu’s chronic health condition; and enable his access to a lawyer of his choosing,” Miller said.
Lu was disbarred in 2021 for an online speech that allegedly “endangered national security”. Lu had been placed under a so-called “exit ban” by Chinese authorities.
The lawyer’s family confirmed to Amnesty International earlier this month they had been informed by Chinese authorities that he is being held in the Xindu Detention Centre in Sichuan province, southwestern China.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh and Costas Pitas; Editing by Lincoln Feast)