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NGOs mark anniversary of Taiwanese activist's detention in China

2018/03/19 21:39:48

Taipei, March 19 (CNA) Nongovernmental organizations (NGO) on Monday marked the one-year anniversary of the forced disappearance of Taiwanese activist Lee Ming-che (李明哲) in China and appealed to President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to ramp up efforts to bring him home.

Dozens of NGO activists held a protest in the square in front of the Presidential Office building, highlighted by a man caught in a large piece of red cloth and blindfolded and handcuffed to symbolize Lee being held incommunicado in China.

"We gathered here because we have an open letter for President Tsai. Lee Ming-che should not be given a verdict of guilty for exercising the right to freedom of expression," said Chiu E-ling (邱伊翎), secretary-general of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

A court in China sentenced Lee to five years in prison in November 2017 on charges of "subversion of state power" for comments he made and information he circulated on social media about democracy, freedom of expression, and human rights in China.

Lee has made two public appearances since going missing one year ago after entering China from Macau -- when he went on trial in September and when the verdict was announced in November.

"Lee Ming-che's wife Lee Ching-yu (李凈瑜) hasn't been able to visit him in prison and parcels of clothing and necessaries she mailed to him were all sent back," said Cheng Hsiu-chuan (鄭秀娟), the head of Wenshan Community College where Lee Ming-che worked before his disappearance.

Lee Ching-yu(Photo courtesy of Taiwan Association for Human Rights)

In late January, Lee Ching-yu received a notice from Chishan prison in Hunan province stating that Lee Ming-che was moved there to serve his sentence and could be visited once a month on a Tuesday by up to three family members for no more than 30 minutes.

She was not allowed to board her flight in Taiwan for China the next day, however, because she did not have a valid Mainland Travel Permit (台胞證), needed by Taiwanese citizens to visit China.

China had invalidated it in April 2017 to block her plan to fly to Beijing at that time to look for her husband.

It remains unclear if Lee Ming-che is actually being jailed in Chishan prison because the notice Lee Ching-yu received was not officially stamped, said Yibee Huang (黃怡碧), chief executive officer of human rights group Covenants Watch.

As part of the ongoing efforts by the NGOs to free Lee Ming-che, they have appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to bring further pressure on China and testified in its sessions in September and February.

Huang said they filed another appeal with the council's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on March 16, hoping that the UN would be able to determine Lee Ming-che's whereabouts and urge China to grant Lee Ching-yu the right to visit her husband.

The NGO activists delivered speeches in the square before marching toward Taipei Main Station to hand out postcards to people so they can send well-wishing messages to Lee Ming-che to show their support.

At night, filmmaker Kevin Lee (李惠仁), who recently produced a documentary called "Self-censorship" (并:控制) on China's threats to freedom of expression in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and Teng Biao (滕彪), China's leading human rights lawyer who is currently in exile, held a discussion with NGO activists on human rights issues in China.

(Photo courtesy of Taiwan Association for Human Rights)

(Photo courtesy of Taiwan Association for Human Rights)

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, meanwhile, issued a statement late Monday urging China to release Lee Ming-che as soon as possible.

"Imprisonment cannot suppress people's desire for freedom, democracy, and justice. Only when the mainland (government) can be receptive to different views with an attitude of open-mindedness can it embark on the path to reform," the MAC said.

"If Lee Ming-che is released as soon as possible, it will be seen as an important step for the mainland in moving toward reform," it said.

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)