Republicans Demand Immediate Release of Chinese-Held American Mark Swidan

By Alice Giordano
Alice Giordano
Alice Giordano
Freelance reporter
Alice Giordano is a freelance reporter for The Epoch Times. She is a former news correspondent for The Boston Globe, Associated Press, and the New England bureau of The New York Times.
February 7, 2023Updated: February 8, 2023

In the midst of rising tensions between the United States and China, Republicans—including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)—are calling for the release of American Mark Swidan, who has been detained by Beijing for more than a decade.

Cruz—along with Texas Republicans Sen. John Cornyn and Congressman Michael Cloud—introduced a resolution calling for Swidan’s immediate release on the heels of the now-postponed meeting between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang.

Blinken called off the highly-anticipated meeting on Feb. 3 over the discovery of a suspected Chinese spy balloon spotted floating over Billings, Montana, several days earlier. It was shot down by a U.S. military plane on Feb. 4.

It would have been the first time any cabinet member from the Biden administration visited China.

Republicans were hoping the visit would spark interest in the plight of several Americans like Swidan who have been imprisoned in China, many for years, some of whom have never been convicted of a crime.

The postponed meeting, however, has not eased their demands that the Biden administration makes Americans trapped in Chinese prisons a priority.

“Bringing Mark Swidan home to his family should be a top priority for this administration,” said Cloud in a statement to The Epoch Times. “Too many innocent Americans remain wrongfully imprisoned by authoritarian regimes who are happy to collect human lives as capital for future political bargaining.”

The Houston photographer has been held in a prison in China since Nov. 13, 2012, when offices from China’s Public Security bureau grabbed him off the streets.

Swidan, who was visiting China on business, was accused of being part of a ring that was manufacturing and trafficking drugs.

Despite his passport records showing Swidan wasn’t even in China at the time of the allegations, he was sentenced to death in 2019 and is awaiting an appeal against that sentence.

No evidence has ever been presented against him.

China has also barred Swidan from having any communication with his family.

Epoch Times Photo
Nelson Wells Jr. of Louisiana is among an estimated 90 Americans being held in Chinese prisons on what appears to be false charges (Courtesy of Nelson Family)

A China-based humanitarian group called Dui Hua Foundation has released several reports over the years detailing the horrific conditions Swidan is housed in and that his health continues to rapidly deteriorate. According to the group, Swidan has suffered immense torture including hand and leg fractures that have gone untreated.

He is one of some 90 Americans being held in Chinese prisons.

They include Nelson Wells, Jr., the son of a U.S. Army veteran and former U.S. Department of Defense employee.

Nelson, a married father of three from Louisiana, has been detained in a prison in Chongqing Southwest China for eight years, on similar charges and circumstances as Swidan.

His parents Cynthia and Nelson Wells Sr. launched a website to garner support for their son.

In a recent heartbreaking letter they posted on social media, the couple talks about breaking the silence they say they were told to keep about their son’s plight.

“We’ve fought for years to help our son, working behind the scenes with advocates, lawyers, and diplomatic officials in the United States and China. We were told that this quiet strategy was the best strategy to keep him safe, but after nearly a decade with little progress, we’ve decided to tell our story, Nelson’s story,” they wrote.

On the other hand, Mark Swidan’s mother has been vocal for years, with her pleas for help from the American government and U.S. lawmakers.

Following the release of WNBA player Brittney Griner from Russia, she and others have publicly questioned why the Biden administration hasn’t been as dedicated to her son’s release.

“I refuse to accept that the most powerful country on Earth cannot get Mark home,” Katherine Swidan recently told WENY News in New York.

In a recent speech to Congress, Cruz also made the point that Biden has made Swidan’s case a low priority, pointing out that the UN recently demanded his release.

On Feb. 5 on Face The Nation, the day after the U.S. military shot down the suspected Chinese spy balloon, Cruz said that if China “wants to demonstrate that they’re not bad actors, if they want to demonstrate that they can aspire to being a great nation, they should release Mark Swidan, because great nations and great powers don’t hold political prisoners.”

However, past analysis of Swidan’s situation has suggested that his freedom may hinge on easing diplomatic tensions with China. In 2020, The Guardian ran an article with just that headline, pointing out that Swidan’s death penalty sentence immediately followed a breakdown in trade talks with Beijing.

At a Jan. 31 press briefing on Blinken’s visit, several of the White House’s upper-level experts on U.S. relations with China, defended Biden’s gentler approach to China, while criticizing former President Donald Trump for taking a power-play approach with the country.

“So, the Trump administration’s sort of mode of approach towards China was just to signal that the United States is willing to use its power to compete with China, even if doing so will hurt U.S. interests, or have other consequences,” said Dr. Scott Kennedy, Chinese Business and Economics senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

“People have said that the Biden administration has continued that policy. I would challenge that a little bit and say the Biden administration’s goal is to use the power of the West to compete with China, but in ways that don’t cause war or isolate the United States from its allies.”

CSIS officials also talked about the Feb. 1, 2023, leaked memo written by four-star U.S. Air Force General Mike Minehan warning that America would be at war with China by 2025.

The panel said it disagreed with Minehan’s prediction.