BEIJING – A Chinese court sentenced on Tuesday a Taiwanese activist and professor to five years in prison for subversion of state power, an offense stemming from comments he made outside Chinese territory.
The sentence was issued by the appellate court of Yueyang, in Hunan province, where Lee Ming-che, 42, said he would not appeal the court’s decision, reported Taiwanese media.
As Lee was accused of crimes he committed outside the territory of the People’s Republic of China and through social networks on the Internet, his case has raised significant fears among critics of Beijing in Taiwan.
This case marks the first-ever extraterritorial trial against critics of China and the first Taiwanese dissident charged with subversion of state power as well as the first non-Chinese member of a non-governmental organization who was tried in China after a new law regarding NGOs in the Asian country was approved in 2016.
In Taiwan, Lee’s actions are not crimes and China charged him for what he did outside his territory, Eeling Chiu, executive secretary of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, told EFE.
Lee disappeared on March 19, after entering China from Macao on a private trip. On March 29, he was reported to have been arrested but his whereabouts remained unknown until May, when the charges against Lee of subverting state power were made public.
On Sept. 11, he was tried in the city of Yueyang, in central China, where his wife and mother were also present, and during the trial he pleaded guilty to charges of subversion, according to video footage released by the Chinese court.
Lee admitted to cooperating with Peng Yuhua, a Chinese citizen who had established several debate groups criticizing the government, to intentionally disseminate information and articles attacking the communist system and the Chinese government.
The case has sparked much interest from international organizations, including the United Nations, the US Congress and the European Parliament, as it was the first judicial proceeding against an NGO member in China following the approval of the 2016 law regarding the roles of NGOs in the country.
Lee, a former employee of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, is a professor at the Wenshan Community College in Taipei and a volunteer at the Covenants Watch NGO.
The case has attracted great public attention in Taiwan as it is a way of measuring Beijing’s policy towards the island country, which has hardened since pro-independence Tsai Ing-wen was elected President of Taiwan.
In Taiwan, Lee’s trial is considered a warning from Beijing, proving how the Chinese government could put critics or human-rights activists in jail, even if they only express their opinions or contact Chinese citizens online.