China Bars Wife of Detained Taiwan NGO Worker From Flying to Beijing

The wife of lifelong rights activist Lee Ming-cheh says she was warned off the trip by a shadowy 'intermediary,' but chose to ignore the message.

Airline staff refuse to check Lee Ching-yu in for her flight to Beijing at Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, April 10, 2017.

Chinese authorities have canceled a travel permit issued to the wife of a detained Taiwan rights worker detained last month during a trip to mainland China, his wife told RFA.

Lee Ching-yu, wife of Lee Ming-cheh, was informed of the cancellation as she tried to board a direct flight from the democratic island to Beijing, having previously said she would try to "rescue" her husband.

A former activist with Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Lee Ming-cheh, 42, is the first overseas NGO worker known to be detained in China since a draconian law gave police control over foreign non-government groups at the beginning of this year.

He was detained by the ruling Chinese Communist Party's state security police on suspicion of "endangering national security" on his arrival in the southern border city of Zhuhai on March 19.

Chinese law allows police to detain those suspected of "national security" crimes and hold them under residential surveillance at a secret location for up to six months, with no access to lawyers or family visits.

Lee told reporters she has been in indirect contact with authorities in Beijing via Li Junmin, a former Taiwanese spy who spent 27 years in prison across the Taiwan Strait in mainland China.

"This intermediary told me that I should cooperate with the authorities quietly and obediently, and then Lee Ming-cheh would be released very soon," she said. "They said if I got on that plane to complain in Beijing, then Guangdong provincial television would immediately air Lee Ming-cheh's confession."

"The intermediary also stressed to me that I should treat the [Chinese government] as if they were kidnappers; that they had no concept of the rule of law," she said.

"If you want me to help you, he told me, you have to cancel your trip to Beijing immediately," she said. "If you don't, there will be nothing I can do for you."

Lee Ching-yu went ahead with her plans to fly to Beijing, but her permit was canceled before she could board the flight.

"I couldn't respect this promise [that Lee would be released soon], because I believe that we must be allowed both freedom and dignity, and there is no dignity in allowing oneself to be humiliated," she said.

"I had no intention of allowing my husband to be treated like a dog for the rest of his life."

Rights groups have strongly criticized Beijing's use of televised "confessions" from detainees accused of wrongdoing, who have included Swedish NGO worker Peter Dahlin and some of the five Hong Kong booksellers detained for selling banned political books to customers in mainland China.

Taiwan responds


Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said China has yet to formally notify Taiwan of any charges leveled against Lee Ming-cheh, or where he is being detained.

It issued a statement on Monday hitting out at the revocation of Lee Ching-yu's travel permit.

"The government wants to strongly protest this," it said, adding that the use of government authority to restrain personal freedoms must follow due legal process.

It said the right of family members to visit detainees is a basic human right, and that the Chinese government's treatment of Lee Ming-cheh would have a negative impact on cross-strait relations.

Eeling Chiu, who heads the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, also hit out at the move.

"[Lee Ching-yu] just wanted to see her husband in person, to know where he is and why he has been detained," Chiu told reporters on Monday.

"We would like to register our protest with the government in Beijing, which has failed to provide for a humanitarian family visit, a basic minimum requirement," she said.

And Lee Ming-cheh's boss at the Taipei Wenshan Community College, where he worked as a manager, said the behavior of Chinese officials runs directly against the government's claim to rule the country by law.

"They still haven't made any formal response [to the Taiwan government]. How is that the rule of law," college principal Cheng Shiowjiuan questioned.

"[And] these sorts of televised confessions could only happen under an illiberal regime."

Taiwan began its transition to democracy following the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of the island's president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.

Recent opinion polls indicate that there is broad political support for de facto self-rule in Taiwan, where the majority of voters identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.

But while the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled the island, Beijing regards it as part of Chinese territory and has threatened to invade if Taiwan seeks formal independence.

Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.