Chinese officials have confirmed that they are holding a Taiwanese man who "disappeared" in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen after reportedly handing out photos of troops gathering near the border with Hong Kong after weeks of anti-extradition protests.
Lee Meng-chu, a volunteer activity organizer from Pingtung county in southern Taiwan, is currently the subject of a criminal investigation and suspected of "harming state security," Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, told journalists in Beijing on Wednesday.
"It is understood that Lee Meng-chu is under investigation according to law for suspected criminal activities that endangered state security," Ma said.
The confirmation came after repeated requests from Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) for information regarding Lee's whereabouts.
Lee's family has yet to receive any official notification from authorities in China, MAC spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng said.
"The Chinese authorities should immediately inform us of where Lee Meng-chu is currently being held, the allegations of law-breaking against him, and the timeframe for him to be deprived of his liberty,"
"At the same time, arrangements should be made for his family members to visit China as soon as possible, and a meeting with his lawyer approved so as to protect his judicial rights," he said.
Eeling Chiu, head of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, said Lee isn't the first Taiwanese national to be detained in China, which offers scant protection for detainees' human rights.
"There is a risk of being arrested or forcibly disappeared, no matter who you are, Taiwanese, or any other foreign national," Eeling Chiu said. "When it comes to China's arrests of foreigners, we believe that procedures in China violate the most basic human rights protections."
Pingtung County Commissioner Pan Meng-an said Lee's detention was reminiscent of that of ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) activist Lee Ming-cheh, who is currently serving jail in China for "harming state security" after contacting Chinese rights activists online.
"Lee Meng-chu is a Taiwan national first and an adviser to the Fangliao Township government second, and he should expect to enjoy fair treatment and freedom of movement wherever he travels in China,"
"In the absence of any political activism, any arrest is likely to cause a big dispute," he said. "We don't want him to become the next Lee Ming-cheh."
New Power Party (NPP) chairman and lawmaker Hsu Yung-ming said charges of "harming state security" are used all too frequently by authorities in China.
"These things seem to keep on happening, and will affect China's image internationally," Hsu said. "China should provide a clear explanation and deal with this in an open and transparent manner."
Officials fear Lee could have run afoul of new, stricter checks on anyone crossing the border from Hong Kong into mainland China, including scans of people's mobile phones for material linked to the anti-extradition protests that have gripped the city since early June.
According to Taiwan's government-run Central News Agency, Lee arrived in Hong Kong on Aug. 18, and had forwarded photos to people back home showing troops of the People's Armed Police gathering near the border with Hong Kong.
Lee's supporters say the sole purpose of his visit to Hong Kong and Shenzhen was business, and that he had only attended the protests as a bystander.
Under an agreement signed in 2009, authorities in China have an official channel through which to inform Taiwan if they have detained one of their nationals.
Lee's disappearance comes after Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen offered vocal support for the anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong, warning that the erosion of the city's traditional rights and freedoms was an object lesson in what happens under the Chinese Communist Party's favored 'one country, two systems' formula under which it wants to annex Taiwan.
Tsai, who is seeking reelection in January 2020, has repeatedly condemned police violence against unarmed demonstrators in Hong Kong, and called on the city's government to pursue greater democracy.
She has also pledged "humanitarian assistance" to any residents of Hong Kong who fear arrest or unfair prosecution over their involvement in a recent string of mass protests against extradition to mainland China.
Taiwan has never formed part of the People's Republic of China nor come under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, and a number of Hong Kong anti-extradition activists are believed to have fled there to evade arrest on "rioting" charges back home.
Taiwanese democracy activist Lee Ming-cheh is currently serving a prison sentence in China for subversion after working with Chinese pro-democracy groups online from Taiwan.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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