In the first case of its kind, a Taiwanese activist has been sentenced to five years in jail for “subverting state power” in China. A harsh sentence that many see as a warning shot to other activists intent on undermining Beijing’s interests.
Lee Ming-che, a community college teacher in Taiwan known for his pro-democracy and human rights activism, mysteriously disappeared while traveling in mainland China back in March. Chinese authorities later confirmed that Lee had been detained and was being investigated on suspicion of damaging national security.
In September, Lee went on trial in central Hunan province where he “confessed” to the charge of subversion and expressed regret for having posted comments on social media chat groups that “attacked” the Chinese government and promoted “Western-style democracy.”
“I spread some attacks, theories that maliciously attacked and defamed China’s government, the Chinese Communist Party and China’s current political system, and I incited the subversion of state power,” Lee said during his trial which was broadcast online.
Lee’s family and supporters were barred from attending the “open trial.” Afterward, his wife, Lee Ching-yu, said that she did not recognize the court’s authority. Repeated calls from Taipei, demanding that Lee be given his freedom went unanswered in Beijing.
International groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned Lee’s sentencing, while Taiwan’s Presidential Office issued a statement calling it “unacceptable.”
“It is regrettable that the Lee Ming-che case has seriously damaged cross-strait relations and especially challenged Taiwanese people’s persistence and ideals for democracy and freedom,” the statement read.
In the Taiwan Democracy Bulletin, J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based senior fellow at the China Policy Institute, writes that Lee’s sentencing is meant as a loud and clear warning to other activists:
The heavy sentence is also meant to send a loud signal to other activists in Taiwan, Hong Kong and elsewhere that they, too, can now be apprehended and convicted for “crimes endangering national security” and the “people’s democratic dictatorship regime” as (loosely) defined in the Law, irrespective of where the said crimes have been committed, both physically and online. This development will no doubt have a chilling effect on activists, academics, journalists, officials and artists who may fear that they have, at some point, promoted through their work or personal discussions online notions of democracy or sovereignty that can be construed as criminal in China.
More than the unfair treatment of a man who did nothing wrong, today’s sentencing is yet another reminder that China has no intention of playing by international rules. It is also a warning that it has now cast a much wider — and extraterritorial — net in its attempt to silence critics and those, Chinese and not, who propose an alternative, more liberal and democratic system of governance in China.
A view shared by Human Rights Watch researcher Maya Wang and others.
— Maya Wang 王松莲 (@wang_maya) November 28, 2017
Meanwhile, Lee’s wife has been quoted as saying that she is proud of her husband, adding that when “pursuing a dream, one must be ready to pay a price.”