The wife of Lee Ming-cheh, a Taiwanese rights activist and NGO worker currently serving a prison sentence in China for "subversion," has called on the authorities there to grant him a temporary release to attend his father's funeral.
In a statement on Monday, Lee Ching-yu said she would be traveling to China to visit her husband and inform him of his father's death on Aug. 17.
She cited Chinese law as saying that convicted criminals serving sentences are permitted to attend the funerals of their parents.
Lee said she would be willing to remain in China "as a hostage" if the authorities were to allow Lee Ming-cheh home on leave to attend the funeral.
"This request is based on the laws and humanitarian standards of a civilized world," the statement said. "I hope that China will live up to its own claim to be a civilized country."
Lee Ming-cheh, a lifelong activist with Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was sentenced by Hunan’s Yueyang Intermediate People's Court to five years in jail for "attempting to subvert state power” in November 2017.
He was accused of setting up social media chat groups to “vilify China.”
According to statistics from Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), Lee Ming-cheh is among 149 Taiwan nationals to have gone missing in China since Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016.
Only 82 of those people have been accounted for, while the whereabouts of 67 people remain unknown, with no information available, the SEF said last week.
Limited mainland cooperation on missing
Many of the "disappearances" were due to death, detention, or serious injury, according to the SEF.
While the Chinese authorities had assisted in providing some information on the 82 missing, some information on the remaining 67 had been withheld or was insufficient to draw any conclusion, it said.
The toll of missing was published shortly after the detention in August of Lee Meng-jun, also known as Morrison Lee, who traveled to mainland China after attending pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The Chinese foreign ministry only confirmed his detention two weeks after his family reported him missing. He is being held on suspicion of "harming state security."
Another Taiwanese, Tsai Chin-shu, has been held for more than 400 days on similar charges.
SEF said it is seeking information from ARATS or members of the Chinese public that might help in contacting or accounting for the 62 Taiwanese citizens that are still missing.
Lin Yu-ming of the left-wing, pro-independence Taiwan State Building Party said that China is increasingly seeking to inflence the democratic island's 23 million residents ahead of presidential elections in 2020, at which Tsai is seeking re-election.
Taiwan's national security agency has repeatedly warned of growing attempts to flood Taiwan with propaganda and disinformation ahead of presidential elections in 2020, and to infiltrate its polity using Beijing-backed media and political groups.
United Front infiltration
Lawmakers say the country is doing all it can to guard against growing attempts at political infiltration and influence by the Chinese Communist Party's United Front Work Department in Taiwan.
Lin said pro-China groups are making use of "gray areas" in Taiwan's pluralistic society to undermine support for Tsai and the ruling DPP.
"They are camouflaging themselves in civic groups and associations, from where they conduct commercial espionage and limit freedom of speech in academic circles," Lin said.
"They are making records of speeches made by students, recruiting professors and making lists of people who support independence," he said. "These gray areas and loopholes must be guarded against as one front in the ongoing campaign."
Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the Kuomintang (KMT) government as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.
The KMT made its capital there after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists that led to the founding of the People's Republic of China.
While the Chinese Communist Party claims Taiwan as an "inalienable" part of its territory, Taiwan has never been ruled by the current regime in Beijing, nor has it ever formed part of the People's Republic of China.
The Republic of China has remained a sovereign and independent state since 1911, now ruling just four islands: Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu.
The island began a transition to democracy following the death of KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek's son, 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 a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
Reported by Ma Lap-hak and Fok Leung-kiu for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.