The US State Department said Thursday it is “disappointed” by a Chinese court’s decision to uphold the death sentence for American citizen Mark Swidan and called for his immediate release.
“Today the People’s Republic of China’s Jiangmen Intermediate Court denied wrongfully detained US national Mark Swidan’s appeal, and upheld his death penalty with a two-year suspended death sentence,” State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a statement.
“We are disappointed by this decision and will continue to press for his immediate release and return to the United States,” Patel said.
Swidan, a businessman from Texas, has been detained in China for more than a decade since he was arrested in 2012 on drug-related charges.
He was convicted of manufacturing and trafficking drugs in 2019 by the Jiangmen Intermediate People’s Court in southern Guangdong province and given a death sentence with a two-year reprieve.
Under Chinese law, the reprieve means Swidan’s sentence may be commuted to life imprisonment after two years, subject to his conduct during this period.
A United Nations working group concluded in 2020 that Swidan had been arbitrarily detained in violation of international law and urged his immediate release.
CNN could not reach the Jiangmen Intermediate People’s Court for comment.
His mother, Katherine Swidan, told CNN earlier this year that her son had been detained in what she described as a “holding tank,” where she said he had undergone physical and psychological torture and attempted suicide.
“He’s been in there for 10 years, where they never turn the lights off, so as a result, he’s going blind. He’s got fractures in his leg,” she said, telling CNN that guards at the facility “broke his hands five to seven times.”
“He’s suffering and he’s got an infection. He has severe periodontal disease. He has holes in his mouth that bleed constantly. He’s lost 130 pounds,” Katherine said.
Patel, the State Department spokesperson, said in his statement Thursday American officials had “repeatedly expressed their concerns” to senior Chinese officials about Swidan’s “treatment, medical care, and his inability to send or receive mail in a timely manner.”
US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken “continue to remain personally focused on the release of Mark Swidan and other US nationals wrongfully detained or held hostage across the world,” Patel added.
Katherine Swidan and family members of other Americans detained by China had urged Blinken to make securing their loved ones’ freedom a top priority before his expected trip to Beijing in February. But the trip was postponed in response to the flying of a suspected Chinese spy balloon over US airspace.