Taiwanese activist Lee Ming-che (李明哲) today appeared on trial at the Hunan Province, Yueyang City Intermediate People's Court. He has been missing in China for 176 days.

Lee Ming-che, along with Peng Yuhua (彭于華) from China, were accused of subversion of state power. This is the first prosecution of a nonprofit worker on criminal charges since Beijing passed a law tightening controls over foreign non-governmental organizations.

Clips of the trial were streamed on China’s social media platform, Weibo, via Yueyang City Court’s official account. The website only permits 15-minute-long videos so the court was unable to live stream the trial. The trial began at 9:30 a.m. but the first video was not released until 9:42 a.m.

Lee Ming-che at the trial confessed to “spreading malicious articles and speech attacking the current Chinese Communist Party and government” and “writing articles that were intended to defame the system and subvert state power."

The activist also said in court that the Taiwanese media coverage of China had led to his misconceptions of China’s developments, and during his detainment, the information he received through local television news was different from what he obtained in Taiwan.

He thanked law enforcement agencies twice for their civilized approach in handling the case, and “confessed and showed repentance for wrong thoughts leading to misguided actions.” The trial ended at 1:40 p.m. with the court saying it would issue a verdict on a later date and Lee Ming-che has been remanded in custody.

Lee’s wife, Lee Ching-yu (李凈瑜) was among the audience along with her mother-in-law, Kou Shou-chin (郭秀秦) and three Taiwanese media personnel. Prior to departure, Lee Ching-yu told the media on Sept. 10 that her husband might be pressured into pleading guilty.

"Please forgive Lee Ming-che if you see him doing or saying something disturbing in court under duress," she said. "That is just the Chinese government skilfully extracting a 'guilty confession.'"

Lee Ming-che, who is a former secretary for Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was being detained in China by a branch of the state security police for “involvement in a threat to national security.” He has not been heard from after flying from Taipei to Macau and into Guangdong on March 19.

Before he was detained in China, Lee Ming-che was working at a community college in Taipei. As a Taiwanese “waishengren”– loosely meaning he and his family are from China – Lee had for many years traveled annually to China and kept regular contact with a network of friends and his family there.

A colleague at the community college in April told The News Lens Lee had weekly conversations on Chinese messaging and social media platforms, his talks focusing on human rights and democracy issues. He also sent books that were unavailable in China to his contacts there.

In an interview with The News Lens in April, Lee Ching-yu was cautious about talking in depth about her husband’s interactions in China, as she didn’t want any details to be “used” by authorities in China. But she insisted that his talks rarely covered contemporary Chinese “politics” and certainly not Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).

On April 4, Lee Ching-yu, tried to travel to China in a bid to uncover where her husband was being held and what charges he faced, but her travel pass was revoked by the Chinese authorities.

Editor: Olivia Yang