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FILE PHOTO: Wang Yanfang, wife of Chinese human rights lawyer Tang Jingling, holds his portrait during a protest calling for the release of Tang and other political prisoners, outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong July 6, 2014. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

(reuters_tickers)

By David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Wives of human rights lawyers detained by China in a sweeping crackdown two years ago appealed in the U.S. Congress on Thursday for President Donald Trump to press Beijing to free activists and end torture.

The wives of Taiwanese national Lee Ming-che and mainland lawyers Tang Jingling, Jiang Tianyong and Xie Yang issued their appeals directly at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing, while the wives of two other detained lawyers, Wang Quanzhang and Li Heping, delivered their appeals via a video.

The chairman of the human rights subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Chris Smith, said the panel would make an immediate request for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to meet with the women.

Critics have accused Trump of softening the U.S. approach to China, including on rights, after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in April, in an effort to secure more Chinese support to reigning in North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

Smith stressed the need for Trump to take a tough line with Beijing and told the women: "He needs to look you in the eyes so that when he looks Xi Jinping in the eyes, he has your husbands' and your interests right there, front and centre."

In testimony to the hearing, Jin Bianling said her husband, Jiang Tianyong, a disbarred lawyer who spoke out against a government crackdown on dozens of rights activists in 2015, had been prevented from seeing a lawyer for nearly six months.

She said she got news on May 12 that he had been tortured and his legs were too swollen to allow him to walk.

Earlier on Thursday, Chinese police released a video of Jiang to refute allegations he had been tortured.

The video, which police said was taken on Wednesday, showed Jiang walking up and down a corridor of what appeared to be an apartment building in shorts and sandals.

Jin told Reuters she was very suspicious of the video, saying it was a set-up.

"If they want to prove that he has not been tortured, they should let his lawyers visit and fully examine him," she said. "As it is, we still don't even know where he is."

Li Heping returned to his home this month after being held for nearly two years, his former lawyer said. His wife, Wang Qiaoling, said he had been ill-treated and looked 20 years older after his detention.

China rejects criticism of its rights record. It has accused Jiang of colluding with the wife of another detained lawyer, Xie Yang, to fabricate accounts of torture.

Xie Yang's wife, Chen Guiqiu, who fled to the United States in March, said he had been forced to admit his guilt at a court hearing this month. She said he was bailed out after the session "but still had not regained his freedom" as he was followed everywhere by security agents.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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