Political News

China bars wife of detained Taiwanese activist from visiting

Posted April 10

— The wife of a Taiwanese pro-democracy activist detained in China said Monday that she was prevented from flying to the mainland to seek a visit with her husband, whose case has inflamed tensions between the sides that have already sunk to their lowest level in years.

Lee Ching-yu said airline staff told her when she tried to check in for her flight that Beijing authorities had canceled her Chinese-issued travel permit. Li was hoping to fly to China to demand information about her husband, Lee Ming-che, who has not been heard from since March 19.

A Chinese official said last week that Lee was under investigation on suspicion of endangering Chinese national security and was in "good physical condition," but offered no additional information. Lee Ching-yu says her husband suffers from hypertension and has asked that medication be provided to him.

Lee, a college employee who used the WeChat social media platform to discuss China-Taiwan relations, is the first Taiwanese activist in years to be held by China on security charges. His colleagues said his account on WeChat — a mainland China-based service used broadly in the Chinese-speaking world — had been shut down by Chinese authorities in mid-2016, suggesting he had attracted government attention.

Lee, 42, formerly worked for the Democratic Progressive Party, which has advocated for Taiwan's formal independence. He was due to meet a friend in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on March 19 but never arrived.

China cut off its already limited contacts with Taiwan's government in June, five months after the DPP's Tsai Ing-wen was elected president. Since then, China has been seen as further restricting the island's already limited diplomatic breathing space while bringing economic pressure to bear.

Trailed by a scrum of supporters and media, Lee Ching-yu was turned away at the check-in counter by an Air China employee who said the airline had been informed by Beijing that her permit to visit the mainland had been voided, without providing details. China regards Taiwan as part of its territory and requires the island's residents to use a document called a Taiwan Compatriots Pass rather than their passport when traveling to the mainland.

"I wonder why China needs to stop me, a defenseless woman, from visiting," Li told reporters at the airport.

Monday's drama raises the stakes in a case already complicated by the absence of formal cross-strait diplomatic channels. The Taiwanese government department responsible for relations with China says its requests for information about Lee have largely gone ignored.

Lee Ching-yu said Sunday that a middleman who claimed to have Chinese government contacts sought to persuade her not to make the trip, saying that her husband would be released soon if she acted in an "obedient and quietly cooperative" manner. If not, Lee said, the middleman suggested that Chinese state television would air a confession extracted from her husband.

Taiwanese media on Monday disclosed the middleman's identity as former Taiwanese intelligence officer Lee Chun-min, who told the press that he would no longer work on the case.

National security crimes in China are broadly defined and have a range of penalties. Authorities usually release little or no information on the specific allegations, citing the need to protect state secrets.

Powers of the security services in dealing with foreign groups and their Chinese partners were strongly enhanced under a law that took effect in January, leading to concerns about further prosecutions and restrictions on civil society.

In recent years, China's state security apparatus has detained foreign activists, domestic lawyers and other political elements it considers hostile and extracted and aired video confessions as proof that they were working to undermine China's national security. In several instances, the detainees recanted their confessions upon their release.

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Shih reported from Beijing.

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