More than a week after a Taiwan human rights activist went missing while visiting China, Chinese authorities have finally confirmed that he is being detained under suspicion of “endangering national security.”
Lee Ming-che disappeared after crossing the border from Macau to Zhuhai on March 19th. For more than a week afterward, his family and friends were unable to learn anything about his whereabouts.
The 42-year-old NGO worker’s wife, fellow Taiwan rights activists and members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party organized a joint press conference in response to his disappearance, calling on China to explain the charges made against Lee or release him immediately.
“I want the government of China to act like a civilized country and tell me what they’re doing with my husband on what legal grounds and … what they plan to do with him,” Lee’s wife, Lee Ching-yu said on Tuesday after learning from “reliable sources” that her husband had been detained by Chinese security officials.
On Wednesday, Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, confirmed that Lee was in fact being held in China.
“According to what is understood, Taiwan resident Lee Ming-che is suspected of engaging in activities endangering national security and is being investigated by the relevant authority,” Ma said. “At present his health is good.”
Ma also added that Taiwanese residents visiting China for “normal activities” have absolutely nothing to fear. Following Lee’s vanishing, DPP lawmakers raised concerns about the safety of Taiwanese residents visiting the mainland. Typically, mysterious disappearances are not good for tourism.
It’s not clear what “non-normal activities” Lee was engaged in. However, his wife and colleagues have pointed to two possibilities: WeChat and books.
Cheng Hsui-chuan, president of a Taipei college where Lee also worked, told the AP that Lee had caught the attention of Chinese security officials by using WeChat to discuss and “teach” China-Taiwan relations with fellow users.
“For China, the material he was teaching would be seen as sensitive,” Cheng said.
At the same time, Lee Ching-yu said that her husband had regularly mailed books to friends in China. Last August one of these packages was confiscated, and he had his chat account deleted, Reuters reports.
Lee’s mysterious disappearance comes as China-Taiwan relations continue to worsen following the election last year of Tsai Ing-wen. Earlier this month, Taiwan’s national security authorities estimated that there were 5,000 spies in Taiwan collecting information and state secrets for the Chinese government.
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