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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn are calling on China to release Mark Swidan, a Houston resident, who has been detained in the country for more than 10 years on drug charges.
Swidan was detained in China in 2012 while on a trip looking for materials for his home and business in Houston. Chinese authorities arrested him after his driver and translator were found in possession of drugs. The driver blamed Swidan, who is accused of trafficking and manufacturing methamphetamine.
Swidan had no drugs on him or in his hotel room and records show he was not in China at the time of the alleged offense, according to a review of Swidan’s case compiled in 2019 by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
The two Texas Republicans, who introduced a resolution calling for Swidan’s release, are drumming up attention to the decade-old case as Secretary of State Antony Blinken was planning to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang this week.
Blinken “will have an opportunity to finish the final chapter of this tragedy,” Cruz said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I’m calling on the Biden administration to use all of the tools at our disposal to secure Mark’s release.”
However, Blinken postponed his visit, saying Friday that it was in response to a suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew over the United States.
U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Victoria, is carrying a similar resolution for Swidan in the House.
“Bringing Mark Swidan home to his family should be a top priority for this administration,” Cloud said in a statement announcing the resolution. “Too many innocent Americans remain wrongfully imprisoned by authoritarian regimes who are happy to collect human lives as a capital for future political bargaining.”
The calls for his release come after two Texans were released last year from Russia — Brittney Griner, a WNBA player, and a former Marine Trevor Reed. Griner was arrested in Russia last year for carrying vape canisters and cannabis oil in her luggage. Reed was also released from Russia last year after being arrested in 2019 when he was taken to jail for public intoxication. Both were released in swaps for Russian prisoners detained in the U.S.
Swidan was arrested alongside 11 others who Chinese authorities said were part of an organization manufacturing drugs. But, the 11 could not identify him, according to the U.N. report.
Swidan’s conviction relied on evidence that he once visited a factory that police found had once been used to manufacture drugs, according to the Dui Hua Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on gaining clemency and better treatment for detainees.
The Dui Hua Foundation report said that Swidan has lost more than 100 pounds since being detained.
The U.N. review also highlighted Swidan’s deteriorating health and the bleak conditions he has been detained in, adding that he has been subjected to “severe psychological torture for the purpose of extracting a confession.”
Swidan was detained in 2012 for five years throughout the duration of his trial. He was eventually sentenced to death in 2019 — a ruling that he appealed but is still awaiting a decision on. His mother, Katherine Swidan, who is a resident of Luling, has not seen a photo of him for nearly a decade and has not been able to speak to him since 2018.
“This ordeal has got to end,” Cruz said. “It has to end for Mark. It has to end for his mother. It has to end for his family. We must and will do more so that Mark can come home.”