by Garrett Dee
Photo Credit: UDN
THE CHINESE government announced Wednesday September 6 that it would begin proceedings on the trial of Lee Ming-che, the Taiwanese democratic and human rights advocate who disappeared in March while attempting to cross the China-Macau border and who was later confirmed to have been taken prisoner by the central Chinese government. The announcement came in the form of a phone call to his wife, Lee Ching-yu, from a man name Zhang Zhongwei who claimed to be her husband’s state-appointed attorney.
Lee Ming-che had been a former employee of the Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan before joining an NGO focused on human rights and democracy. His wife confirmed that he was attempting to enter the border of China on a mission to spread Taiwan’s experience with democracy when he was detained by the Chinese government.
Authorities in China later confirmed that Lee Ming-che was being held captive under charges of subversion of state authority, but claimed that he was in good health and was being well-treated. His wife Lee Ching-yu, however, has advocated for her husband in absentia, and has been quite vocal both domestically and abroad about her fears for her husband’s condition under Chinese imprisonment.
Lee Ching-yu herself attempted to travel to China in person with members of the Taiwanese government’s Straits Exchange Committee on early this year, only to have her Taiwanese compatriot travel documents revoked. The Chinese government has not allowed her nor anyone close to the couple to have contact with her husband during his imprisonment, raising fears about the conditions of his captivity.
Though international actors have sounded their own misgivings about the opacity of Lee Ming-che’s trial, this may ultimately have little effect on the outcome of the case. Lee Ching-yu traveled to the United States to meet with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in May to discuss her husband’s captivity with the US government. She met with UN human rights working groups who have condemned the detention of her husband by the Chinese government.
The recent death of the Nobel laureate and prisoner of conscious Liu Xiaobo under Chinese captivity stokes fears of the brutal treatment political prisoners in China face during their time of incarceration. Liu had been a famous dissident and author before his captivity, having co-authored the Charter 08 manifesto posing a set of challenges to the rule of the Chinese Communist Party, a manifesto which led to his imprisonment for a period of eight years until his death.
Earlier this year, the central government in Beijing surreptitiously announced that Liu was stricken with late-stage liver cancer and had been moved to Shenyang’s First Hospital of the Chinese Medical University for intensive care. Liu himself authored an open letter pleading to be taken abroad with his family in order to seek treatment outside of China. Though a team of foreign doctors who travelled to China to observe Liu concluded that it would be possible to move him to an overseas facility in order to seek care, the Chinese government refused the transfer based on the assertion that Liu was already receiving the best treatment possible. Liu died shortly thereafter on July 13.
Following the death of her husband, Liu Xia, Liu Xiaobo’s widow and a prominent activist and dissident in her own right, disappeared for a period of time which was followed by an announcement that she had been taken to Yunnan province. Late last month, the Chinese government then announced that Liu Xia had returned to the capital and that she was in her home.
Friends of the couple who have spoken to Liu Xia, such as the activist Hu Jia, fear for her condition at the mercy of the central government. She is currently under house arrest and is being guarded by plain clothes policemen, in addition to being on a regimen of heavy anti-depressants. Upon speaking to her by phone, friends of the couple stated that she spoke in a very weakened tone. Hu believes she will be forced to leave the capital once again before the 19th Party Congress taking place in October.
The similarities between the two cases causes quite an amount of consternation for Chinese human rights activists who fear for Lee Ming-che’s conditions while at the hands of the Chinese authorities. The fact that the announcement for the trial has come so late into a captivity in which Lee has been held incommunicado, as well as the fact that the date for the commencement of trial was announced so suddenly beforehand, raises red flags about the fairness of the future proceedings.
Chinese handling of the incarceration of political prisoners has come under fire in the past from international organizations. It has been pointed out that Liu Xiaobo was the first Nobel Prize Laureate to die in captivity since Nazi Germany, and many other famous dissidents such as Hong Kong’s Joshua Wong are currently serving prison time for their political views and activities. Lee Ching-yu plans to travel to Hunan to attend her husband’s trial slated to begin on Monday September 11. However, she has preemptively issued an apology to the Taiwanese people on her husband’s behalf should he say or do anything in the court that is “unbearable” for them to witness, as she fears that he will be forced by the Chinese authorities into making a confession of guilt to the charges of subversion of state power brought against him. Given the track record of Chinese conviction against political prisoners, it is likely that she is right.