Taiwanese democracy activist imprisoned in China

A Chinese court on Nov. 28 sentenced Taiwanese democracy activist Lee Ming-cheh to five years in prison on charges of attempting to "subvert state power." Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council immediately denounced the sentence as "unacceptable" and "politically motivated." Lee was sentenced alongside Chinese citizen Peng Yuhua by the Yueyang City Intermediate People's Court, in Hunan province. Peng was sentenced to seven years, also for "subverting state power." The convictions followed a trial in September 2017. Lee first went missing in March 2017 after crossing the border from Macao to Zhuhai, Guangdong, in southern China. Ten days later Chinese officials confirmed he was being held on suspicion of "endangering national security." The case concerned an Internet chat group Peng started in 2012. Prosecutors said the group attempted to foment a "Western color revolution."

Lee and Peng both pleaded guilty at a hearing this September, after being held for two years without counsel. Lee was incriminated on the basis of social media content he posted on platforms including WeChat, QQ and Facebook.

Roseann Rife, East Asia director at Amnesty International, said: "Lee Ming-cheh is the victim of a politically motivated prosecution. The evidence against him is not credible, his conviction preposterous but predictable. He is the latest to suffer under the Chinese authorities' relentless attack against human rights and democracy activists. For prosecutors to use Lee's online discussions on democracy, the fall of the Soviet Union and the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown as evidence against him highlights how baseless his conviction is. His so-called confession is highly dubious and was most likely extracted under extreme duress."

She concluded: "Lee Ming-cheh has committed no crime and should be immediately and unconditionally released." (RFI, SCMP, AI, Nov. 28; NYT, Nov. 27)

China's dubious jurisdiction in Ming-cheh case

Reports are unclear on whether the online activity cited by prosecutors in the case took place within the People's Republic or Taiwan—but it is preusmably at least partially the latter, as Facebook is blocked in the PRC. This raises questions about Taiwan's ambiguous status under international law, and probably marks the first time China is activiely claiming legal jurisdiction in a "crime" committed on Taiwanese soil. We have noted Beijing's paranoia about a "color revolution" attempt either on the mainland or in Hong Kong.

Lee Ming-cheh and China's contradiction

The officialist China Daily names the group that Lee is accused of starting as Weiguan Zhongguo, or Watch China, and authorities say it was aimed at lauching a new political party to "overthrow" the Chinese political system. Lee is also accused of traveling to Chinese cities to meet with group members, which would give Beijing more authority in the case. Watch China is said to have emerged from an online chat group, Liang'an Lianshou, or Hands Across the Strait. It is implied that Lee started the chat group from Taiwan, and Peng was his first mainland contact, responding to a post on Sina Weibo. This means the post—and presumably many subsequent ones—must have snuck through the supposedly rigorous censorship. This points again to the fundamental contradiction that is slowly but surely eating away at the CCP dictatorship: China embraces corporate globalization and (within proscribed limits) the Internet, while still attempting to maintain the old totalitarian system where political freedoms are concerned.