What you need to know
China claims a Taiwanese man worked with Chinese nationals to develop plans of action and establish an illegal ring that aimed to subvert Beijing.
Nearly 70 days after Taiwanese activist Lee Ming-che (李明哲) was first detained in China, the Chinese government announced Friday that he has been arrested on charges of "subversion of state power."
An Fengshan (安峰山), spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), said Lee has been detained in Hunan Province since March 19 and that he and "his partners in crime have confessed directly that they carried out activities that threaten our country's national security."
The spokesman claimed that an investigation into the case found that Lee had frequently traveled to and from China since 2012 and worked with Chinese nationals to develop plans of action and establish an illegal ring that aimed to subvert Beijing.
No other details of what Lee specifically did were provided.
It was the first time Beijing had offered information about Lee since he was detained.
Previously, it had refused to provide details about his case, such as where he was being detained and what laws he was accused of violating.
Beijing has also refused to discuss Lee's case with Taiwan's authorities and has ignored requests to allow Lee's family to visit him.
Lee's wife and other human rights groups have warned in the past that any "confessions" claimed by China's government would likely be coerced, and they have adamantly rejected any suggestion that Lee was involved in any activities that could have violated Chinese law.
Exclusive interview with Lee Ming-che’s wife
Taiwan: Charges ‘totally unfounded’
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) denounced the charges saying they were totally unfounded. The Taiwan government would not accept the accusation against Lee.
The announcement from China came just days after Lee’s wife, Lee Ching-yu (李淨瑜), appeared before a U.S. House of Representatives committee hearing in Washington D.C. to lobby lawmakers to press China for her husband’s release.
According to a Taipei Times report, Lee Ming-che’s name might be put on a human rights “watch list” to be presented during a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping later this year.
Lee had been sharing "Taiwan's democratic experiences" with his Chinese friends online for many years and often mailed books to them, according to the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.
His detention is the latest in a series of incidents that have heightened tensions between Beijing and Taipei since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) won Taiwan's elections last year.
Beijing has severed official communications with Taipei since she took office.
"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.
Last month, Beijing blocked Lee's wife from travelling to China, with the airline telling her she could not board the plane because her travel permit had been revoked.
Timeline of Lee's disappearance:
- March 19: Lee boarded a flight from Taipei to Macau. He was reportedly traveling to a hospital in Zhuhai, 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.
- April 12: 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 , says in a statement.
- April 12: China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson An Fengshan (安峰山) warned Taiwanese authorities against interfering in the matter.
- April 12: A spokesperson for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party says President Tsai Ing-wen told senior officials the government was doing everything in its power to ensure Lee’s return.
- April 26: The Chinese government said Lee Ming-che was in good health and that it had reassured his family in a letter.
- April 28: The wife of a Taiwanese human rights activist detained in China for over a month without charge vowed to take her fight for justice to the U.S. and the European Union, urging them to pressure Beijing to release him.
- May 14: A group seeking the release of Lee Ming-che flew to Washington to seek help from US officials and non-governmental organizations.
- May 18: Lee Ching-yu appeared before a US House of Representatives committee hearing in Washington calling for her husband's release.
- May 19: Protest rally held in Taipei marking 61 days since Lee Ming-che's disappearance.
- May 24: According to a Taipei Times report, Lee Ming-che’s name might be put on a human rights “watch list” to be presented during a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping later this year.
- May 26: Nearly 70 days after Taiwanese activist Lee Ming-che was first detained in China, the Chinese government announces he has been arrested on charges for "subversion of state power." It also confirmed he has been detained in Hunan Province since March 19 and that he and "his partners in crime have confessed directly that they carried out activities that threaten China's national security."
[Additional reporting by AFP and The News Lens]