Taiwanese Detained in China Talked Democracy, Human Rights on WeChat

Taiwanese Detained in China Talked Democracy, Human Rights on WeChat

What you need to know

Lee Ming-che is being detained in China by a branch of the state security police.

A Taiwanese NGO worker detained in China regularly talked about democracy and transitional justice on one of China’s most popular social media platforms, according to his employer in Taiwan.

Lee Ming-che (李明哲), who was reported missing on March 19, is being detained in China by a branch of the state security police, his wife told reporters in Taipei on March 28. Lee's wife, Lee Ching-yu (李凈瑜), said she had received the news from the Taiwan government on the night of March 27.

Lee, who works as a manager in Taipei’s Wenshan District Community College, had previously held weekly conversations on the Chinese messaging and social media platform WeChat, the principal of the college, Cheng Hsiu-chuan (鄭秀娟) told The News Lens this morning.

His hour-long talks focused on human rights and democracy and Taiwan’s experience in developing democracy and transitional justice, Cheng said. His audience was mainly Chinese.

“We have some of the recordings of his talks, and we can be certain that the content of his discussions and talks with his friends are completely legal,” Cheng says. “He would send books to his friends in China, who were particularly interested in democracy and transitional justice.”

The 42-year-old former staffer for Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) also encouraged his friends to send donations to the families of activists in China via WeChat’s payment system, Cheng said.

It is understood Lee's WeChat account was blocked from using the group chat function in 2016. He has since been using a new account.

A 2016 study conducted by a research team at the University of Toronto found that China censors group chats on WeChat.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) confirmed at a press conference this morning that Lee was being held for “involvement in a threat to national security.” Ma also said that Lee was in good health, but declined to respond to questions about Lee’s location.

Friends and family lost contact with Lee after he entered China via Macau on March 19. He was reportedly traveling to China to seek medical advice for his mother-in-law.

Lee made annual trips to China but never worried about his safety there, Cheng says, adding that he kept details about his family very private. His family also did not know much about his friends in China.

She would not disclose any information about Lee’s Chinese network but said contact had been made with friends who were in better situations to help locate him.

In Taiwan, Lee researched transitional justice and the White Terror, and while working at the community college, Lee planned courses on those topics as well, Cheng says. He was also interested in how China could develop democracy.

Legislator fears torture

At a press conference at the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s parliament, on March 29, Cheng told reporters sources in China said that books Lee sent in August 2016 had been confiscated by Chinese authorities.

Lee’s supporters, which included his wife, Cheng, Judicial Reform Foundation Executive Director Kao Jung-chih (高榮志), Taiwan Association for Human Rights Secretary General Chiu Yi-ling (邱伊翎) and Democratic Progressive Party legislators Kolas Yotaka, Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) and Tsai Yi-yu (蔡易餘) attended the press conference.

They called for Chinese authorities to immediately disclose where Lee is being held, and to release him or give him a fair trial based on international human rights laws.

Chiu said if the Chinese government could not charge Lee with a specific crime, then it should release him immediately. Lee, who has high blood pressure, should also be given proper medical attention as the medication he brought with him would have run out, Chiu said. She also said that he should be granted the right to legal representation.

Kao said his biggest fear was that Lee would be tortured to force a confession.

Kao told The News Lens that the most likely reason for Lee’s detention was China’s new NGO law, but that it took a long time for victims to be sent back to Taiwan in previous cases of Taiwanese being detained in China.

“The Chinese authorities are pretty unreasonable, and the Taiwanese government can only try to communicate with them through official channels. Civil groups can also play a role,” Kao said.

Lee’s wife has set up a blog to post further updates on Lee’s situation. Lee’s employer, Cheng, said that although they had been in contact with authorities in China, Macau and Taiwan, such as the Taiwan Affairs Office, the Chinese National Security Bureau, the Mainland Affairs Council and the Straits Exchange Foundation, they still hope the Taiwanese government could also join in the effort to find Lee.

China’s Overseas NGOs Domestic Activities Management Law, in effect since Jan. 1, handed over supervision and regulation of foreign NGOs in China to the police. The law allows Chinese police to enter foreign NGO offices and seize documents and other information, examine bank accounts and limit funding. It would also allow police to revoke NGO registrations, cancel their activities, and impose detention on NGO workers.

Editor: Edward White