Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hunan on Tuesday sentenced a Taiwanese rights activist and NGO worker to five years' imprisonment for subversion.
Lee Ming-cheh was sentenced by the Yueyang Intermediate People's Court to five years in jail for "attempting to subvert state power," while his co-defendant Peng Yuhua, a Chinese national, received a seven-year term.
Lee appeared in video footage of the hearing released on the court's official social media account wearing a green sweater and glasses, listening to the judges read the sentence.
Lee, a lifelong activist with Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party, had "gradually developed subversive ideas under the influence of anti-Chinese powers," the judge said. He had also set up chat groups to "vilify China."
Lee and Peng indicated in court that they accepted the verdict and sentence, and said they had no plans to appeal.
Lee's detention on arrival at the port city of Zhuhai on March 19 came after he gave online lectures on Taiwan’s democratization process, and managed a fund for families of political prisoners under the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
The furor over his detention and confession to "crimes" linked to activities carried out in the separate jurisdiction of Taiwan has fueled fears that Beijing is seeking to extend its influence to the democratic island, which the Communist Party has never ruled.
Lee pleaded guilty to charges of "incitement to subvert state power" at his trial on Sept. 11, the first foreign national to be held under new laws governing NGO activity in China.
'Face it together'
Lee's wife Lee Ching-yu told reporters on Tuesday that she had been granted a very brief meeting with her husband on the day of the hearing, during which he had indicated to her that their conversation was being monitored.
"I think my husband now needs to figure out how to face up to his current situation," she said. "He and I will face this together."
Eeling Chiu, who heads the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, said the charges against Lee related only to activities he had carried out in Taiwan, a separate legal jurisdiction from mainland China.
"It is totally unacceptable to charge, convict and sentence to five years ... a Taiwan resident for things posted online while he was in Taiwan," Chiu said.
Taiwan's presidential office and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party called the verdict "unacceptable," and called on Beijing to release Lee immediately and to allow him to return to Taiwan.
Taiwan documentary film-maker Lee Hui-jen, who is currently making a film about Beijing's growing political influence in Hong Kong and Taiwan, said Lee's fate could have a widespread chilling effect on Taiwan's cultural life.
"Lee Ming-cheh was in Taiwan when he made those comments on [social media]," Lee Hui-jen said. "He didn't go blabbing out loud in public about how the Chinese Communist Party would eventually fall."
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 Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Hwang Chun-mei for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.