China said on Friday it has formally arrested a former local activist with Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on suspicion of subversion, drawing criticism from Taiwan that the charge was vague and questionable.
The activist, 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 and held incommunicado since then.
China's official Xinhua news agency quoted China's Taiwan Affairs Office as saying that Li had been formally arrested in the southern province of Hunan on suspicion of subversion of state power.
Li had during multiple visits to China "colluded with relevant people in the mainland, formulated action programs, established illegal organizations and plotted and enacted activities to subvert the power of our authorities." the agency said.
"After being interrogated, Li Ming-che (sic) confessed to engaging in activities to harm our state security, and the judicial authorities will handle the case in accordance with the law."
Reuters news agency quoted Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, which handles relations with China, as saying the charges were vague and that China had provided no evidence.
"This cannot convince the people of Taiwan," it said. "We do not agree with any of the alleged charges China has against Lee Ming-cheh."
Sen Hong Yang, chairman of the Taiwan Association for China Human Rights, told RFA's Cantonese Service "the Chinese Communist Party is very foolish to charge Li with such a heavy crime, which is effectively a show of intimidation to the people of Taiwan and contempt for democracy, freedom and human rights."
"Declaring to the world that the universal values of democracy, freedom, human rights and rule of law represent subversion of state power is tantamount to making the Communists the enemy of the entire world, Yang added.
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.
Many lawyers caught up in China's 2015 crackdown on attorneys who handle human rights cases have been tortured, their family members and legal representatives say.
Lee's case highlights the stark and growing gap in civil liberties between China and Taiwan, which began its transition to democracy 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 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 RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Paul Eckert.