The Chinese activist and former political prisoner seeking political asylum in Taiwan is in the custody of Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency (NIA), the agency told The News Lens.

Zhang Xiangzhong (張向忠), 48, was taken into custody at around 8 p.m. on April 17, Radio Free Asia’s Chinese-language website reports. Zhang was typing out a document to apply for asylum when several officers from the NIA entered the room and took Zhang away, RFA said.

The NIA official would not confirm to The News Lens where Zhang is being held. The agency is expected to release a statement on the case later today.

Zhang went missing from a tour group in Taiwan on April 12. He is a member of the New Citizens Movement, a Chinese civil rights group founded by activist Xu Zhiyong (許志永). He was reported as saying that Lee Ching-yu (李凈瑜), the wife of the Taiwanese activist detained in China Lee Ming-che (李明哲), inspired him to seek political asylum in Taiwan.

Under Article 19 of the Regulations Governing the Approval of People of the Mainland Area Visiting Taiwan for Purposes of Tourism, Chinese nationals visiting Taiwan are only allowed to travel according to the itinerary provided by their tour groups and can not leave the groups by themselves. The Taiwanese authorities could deport anyone who violated the regulations, the NIA told the Liberty Times.

Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister Katharine Chang (張小月) said further evaluation was needed before deciding whether Zhang would be deported. She told local media that the MAC had received an asylum request from Zhang, but the relevant authorities still had to verify the identification and documents provided by Zhang.

Zhang was arrested in July 2013 on suspicion of disrupting public order but was tried and sentenced to three years in prison for operating a credit card scam. His lawyer at the time, Xie Yanyi (謝燕益), said that the Haidian Court in Beijing prevented people from observing the hearing, and the prosecutors limited her to only speaking of the alleged credit card scam during her defense of Zhang.

Zhang, who was released in June 2016, claims that he has been under constant surveillance since leaving prison.

After fleeing his tour group on Zhang was not being heard from for several days. He resurfaced in Taipei on April 17, visiting the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, but was told that he may need to provide further evidence that he will face an immediate threat of arrest or torture should he return to China. Secretary General Chiu E-ling (邱伊翎) told The News Lens that even then the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) might not process the case, as Taiwan does not have a refugee or political asylum law.

However, there is recent precedent for the Taiwan government to accept Zhang’s political asylum, Taipei-based American lawyer and consultant Ross D. Feingold told The News Lens on April 16.

“Fortunately for the government, there are precedents from the previous administration of Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) where the government handled asylum applications from Chinese persons on the basis of administrative authority granted to executive branch agencies under existing laws,” he said.

Secretary-general of the Taiwan Association for China Human Rights, Chiu Ling-yao (邱齡瑤) told The News Lens that Zhang’s case was “very strange.” “Wouldn’t a person seeking asylum have safety concerns instead of letting the whole world know?” Chiu said.

The U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2013 lists Zhang in the section on arbitrary arrests in China for his involvement in the New Citizens Movement protests.

Editor: Edward White