What you need to know
Guangdong security bureau needed to show performance results under China’s new NGO laws, Lee Ming-che's wife told.
The wife of the Taiwanese activist held incommunicado in China for 25 days has been told her husband may have been mistakenly detained by local officials because of tough new NGO laws.
Lee Ming-che (李明哲), 42, is being detained in China by a branch of the state security police for “involvement in a threat to national security.” He was reported missing after flying from Taipei to Macau on March 19.
Lee Chun-min (李俊敏), the head of the Cross-Strait Services Exchange Center — an organization linked to China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) — said Lee was wrongly arrested because the Guangdong security bureau needed to show performance results under China’s new NGO laws, Lee’s wife, Lee Ching-yu (李凈瑜), says in a statement published today.
China’s Overseas NGOs Domestic Activities Management Law, which came into effect on Jan. 1, handed over supervision and regulation of foreign NGOs in China to the police.
Lee Ching-yu, says she was also informed that her husband has not been formally charged or arrested.
The statement followed a press conference today held by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, during which spokesperson An Fengshan (安峰山) warned Taiwanese authorities against interfering in the matter.
“It will only complicate things and jeopardize [Lee Ming-che’s] rights,” said An. He accused the Taiwanese government of using the case to harm cross-Strait relations.
Lee’s wife attempted to travel to China on Monday, April 10, in a bid to uncover where her husband is being held and what charges he faces. She was scheduled to depart Taipei at 1 p.m. but was informed at the airline counter that China's Ministry of Public Security had canceled her travel permit.
In her statement today, Lee Ching-yu suggests her travel permit may have been revoked to prevent her from informing the authorities in Beijing of the mistake made by Guangzhou officials.
Lee’s detainment comes amid a period of weak relations across the Taiwan Strait — since Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took office in May 2016, Beijing has cut off official communication with Taipei.
On March 21, two days after Lee went missing, Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation told The News Lens that officials were using all available channels to try and locate Lee, including Taiwanese businesspeople working in China, the Mainland Affairs Council and local Chinese authorities.
A DPP spokesperson today said that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has told senior officials the government was doing everything in its power to ensure Lee’s return, Central News Agency reports.
That follows criticism that Taipei has been too passive in its response to Lee’s arrest.
A leading Chinese dissident and one of Taiwan’s 2014 Sunflower Movement leaders are among those saying Tsai should be taking a stronger stance on Lee’s disappearance.
Wu'er Kaixi (吾爾開希) is an exiled Chinese dissident living in Taiwan and is a member of the Reporters Without Borders Emeritus Board. He told The News Lens that Tsai and her government need to understand Lee Ming-che is not an isolated case, and that she has the responsibility to protect Taiwan from China’s “creeping impact.”
“To save Lee and to prevent any future Lee like cases, Tsai has to rise up to make a clear and loud statement that arresting Lee is unacceptable, it is unacceptable that China treat Taiwan like what they do to Hong Kong – undermining its authority and value step by step – and it is a deal breaker to reestablishing cross-Strait relations, and the Chinese government is to take the full blame,” Wu’er says.
He adds that the Taiwanese people will “understand and support” Tsai if she took this step, despite their wish for cross-Strait stability and trade.
Similarly, Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), a former student leader who remains an influential political activist in Taiwan, wants to see Tsai take a tougher line with Beijing.
Based on his understanding of the interactions over Lee’s case between civil society groups and Taiwan officials, Lin says the government has been “passive” in its response to his disappearance. It is understandable that the government may not want to “provoke” China, but “that is not a reason for doing nothing.”
“You have to show you are not willing to negotiate with someone who kidnaps your citizens,” Lin told The News Lens. “They have to stand strong. But right now we haven’t seen any positive action on this.”
Timeline of Lee’s detainment
- March 19: Lee boarded a flight from Taipei to Macau. He was reportedly traveling to a hospital in Guangdong, southern China, for a medical consultation for his sick mother-in-law.
- March 20: Reports emerge that friends and family had been unable to contact Lee since he left Taipei. Officials at the Gongbei Customs in Zhuhai, China, refused to answer questions from Radio Free Asia on whether Lee had been blacklisted by Chinese authorities.
- March 21: Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation told The News Lens officials were using all available channels to try and locate Lee, including Taiwanese businesspeople working in China, the Mainland Affairs Council and local Chinese authorities. No further information was immediately available.
- March 27: Lee's wife, Lee Ching-yu, is informed by the Taiwan government that Lee is being detained in China by a branch of China’s security police.
- March 29: China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) confirms Lee is being held for “involvement in a threat to national security.” Lee’s supporters, including his wife, several Taiwan legislators and human rights advocates hold a press conference in Taipei to call for Lee’s release.
- April 9: Lee’s wife issues a statement reiterated her position that she would not acknowledge any confessions or statements issued by her husband – for fear they would not be authentic – before she is able to visit him in person. The statement followed reports that an unnamed organization had told her to keep a low profile in order to ensure her husband’s release.
- April 10: Lee’s wife attempts to travel to China in a bid to uncover where her husband is being held and what charges he faces. She was scheduled to depart Taipei at 1 p.m. but was informed at the airline counter that China's Ministry of Public Security had canceled her travel permit.
Editor: Edward White