Ten weeks ago, Taiwanese activist Lee Ming-che was detained while entering China from Macau, apparently in connection with intercepted WeChat messages about Taiwanese democracy and his distribution of political books from Taiwan. Facing silence from Chinese authorities, Lee’s wife Lee Ching-yu planned to travel to Beijing in search of information, but the trip was blocked and Lee was warned to stop her “oppositional activities” by an unofficial “fixer.” Instead, she went to Washington DC to testify to a congressional committee alongside other wives of political detainees, joining a growing movement of advocacy by family members. The case has been seen as an ominous sign of the climate under China’s new foreign NGO management law, and has prompted criticism over lack of transparency, violation of cross-strait judicial agreements, and likely further alienation of the Taiwanese public.
On Friday, China announced that Lee Ming-che had been formally arrested on suspicion of subversion of state power. From Xinhua:
According to the country’s security authorities, Lee has been arrested in accordance with the law by the Hunan provincial security organ, said An Fengshan, spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council.
Investigation by security authorities found that Lee had frequently entered the mainland since 2012. He colluded with mainlanders, stipulated action guidelines, established illegal organizations, and plotted and carried out activities to subvert state power, An said.
On March 19, 2017, Lee, who was on the mainland to participate in illegal activities, was put under coercive measures by security authorities in line with the law, said An.
South China Morning Post’s Lawrence Chung reported on Tuesday that Chinese authorities’ disregard for cross-strait judicial agreements appears to have continued:
“Until now, we have yet to receive any official notification from the Chinese government about the arrest and the so-called charges against my husband,” Li Ching-yu said in a statement on Monday.
[…] Li’s wife, who has sought help from the Taiwanese government and concerned groups in the United States, said her husband was “low-key” and had merely exchanged ideas on democracy with friends he made on the social media network WeChat. She said her husband travelled to the mainland once a year.
She said since the announcement on Friday, the mainland authorities have provided no other information about the arrest, including where Li was held and whether his relatives would be allowed to visit, in line with an agreement between the mainland and Taiwan on fighting cross-strait crimes.
The agreement states that relatives of Taiwanese arrested would be notified within 24 hours of their detention and that relatives can arrange to visit them. [Source]
“The Chinese authorities should disclose all the evidentiary information and openly hear the case with the attitude of a civilized state, rather than dealing with the case in a black box operation,” Taiwan’s independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said in a statement.
[…] China’s judicial system must protect Li’s legal rights and Beijing should cooperate with Taiwan “via legitimate channels” to help Li’s family go to China to visit him and “avoid further worsening in cross-Strait relations,” the DPP said.
[…] A group of non-governmental organizations in Taiwan, supporting Li’s wife, slammed China for its “big battle” approach against Li and said Beijing’s actions to date have seriously violated Li’s basic human rights. [Source]
“The Chinese authorities did not disclose any evidence related to the case at all,” Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said in a late Friday statement reacting to the Xinhua report.
“Their vague and superficial responses cannot convince the people of Taiwan and also cannot convince the international community watching this case,” it said.
[…] “It’s alarming that sharing views and Taiwan’s experience of democracy would be considered ‘subversion’. Again, it shows the arbitrary use of the charge against free speech,” Amnesty International China researcher Patrick Poon told AFP.
“If the Chinese authorities don’t follow the cross-straits agreements on handling criminal suspects, it just shows that there is zero protection for Taiwanese citizens on the mainland,” he said. [Source]
The New York Times’ Chris Horton and Chris Buckley highlighted the context of Lee’s arrest in terms of more broadly strained cross-strait relations:
His arrest, announced on Friday, marks the first time the Chinese authorities have charged someone from Taiwan with subversion. Many people in Taiwan fear it will not be the last, and it has added a new strain to the tensions between Beijing and Taipei.
China’s ruling Communist Party has never administered Taiwan but claims it as Chinese territory, to be annexed by force if necessary. The Nationalists who once dominated China fled to the island after losing to the Communists in a civil war in 1949. Today more residents of Taiwan identify themselves as Taiwanese than Chinese, and few support unification with China.
The rift between the two sides has widened since last year, when Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of Taiwan. The Democratic Progressive Party, led by Ms. Tsai, has historically favored formal independence from China.
Beijing broke off official communications with Taiwan after Ms. Tsai, in her inauguration speech, declined to yield to Chinese demands that she endorse a political formula that holds that Taiwan is part of “One China” that includes both mainland China and Taiwan. [Source]
In the absence of effective cross-strait dialogue or judicial mechanisms, Miao Chung-han and Evelyn Kao at Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported last week on efforts to find leverage elsewhere:
Taiwan’s government is considering adopting measures to prohibit blacklisted Chinese human rights violators from entering the country in response to the detention of a Taiwanese human rights activist in China, Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正), deputy head and spokesperson of the Mainland Affairs Council said on Thursday.
[…] Chiu said at a regular press conference on Thursday that the MAC empathized with Lee’s family and the government is doing everything it can to facilitate his release and return home at the earliest possible date, while also seeking to ensure his personal safety and uphold the national dignity of Taiwan.
Chiu said that the government will try to communicate and coordinate with China through existing channels on Lee’s release and to that end is soliciting the support of international NGOs, experts and scholars.
The Taiwan government has developed a blacklist of suspected human rights violators based on reports provided by NGOs and religious groups suppressed by the Chinese government, Chiu noted, declaring that officials are discussing whether and how to restrict those on the list from entering Taiwan as a countermeasure. [Source]