When news first emerged on March 21 of Lee Ming-che’s (李明哲) disappearance and possible detention in China, two questions sprung into the minds of most Taiwanese: “Who is Lee Ming-che?” and “What has he done to set off alarm bells in Beijing?”
Lee, a former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) staffer who now works at Wenshan Community College in Taipei, has never been a high-profile advocate for democracy and human rights in Taiwan. Most newspapers had never heard of Lee until the possibility arose that he might have become another victim of Beijing’s infamous arbitrary arrests of dissidents, activists, separatists or whoever the Chinese Communist Party deems as “a threat to national security.”
To help the public gain an understanding of Lee — who China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Wednesday acknowledged was being investigated over alleged “threats to national security” — a group of his friends put together an article titled “Who is Lee Ming-che?” that details his experiences.
According to the article, between 2000 and 2012, Lee had worked in several jobs in the political arena, including as an assistant to then-DPP legislator Hsu Chung Pi-hsia (許鍾碧霞) in July 2000, as a campaign staffer for President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) when she ran for New Taipei City mayor in June 2010 and as CEO of the DPP’s Hsinchu County chapter in April 2011.
These experiences in public affairs exposed Lee to the nation’s severe social inequality and prompted him to join an organization advocating workers’ rights after he left politics in 2012. In January 2014, he started working at a non-governmental organization, where he was in charge of collecting historical documents about transitional justice, the article said.
It said that even before 2014, Lee had begun befriending Chinese through China’s biggest messaging service, WeChat, and shared with them Taiwan’s experiences during the White Terror era and transitional justice efforts. After his WeChat account was blocked from group interactions, Lee began to send his Chinese friends books about human rights and helped raise funds for the families of Chinese human rights advocates.
Lee’s actions might qualify him for the label of a democracy and human rights advocate, but he has never been publicly critical of Beijing. He is simply one of a growing number of Taiwanese who believe in democracy and fundamental human rights, and who are vexed by China’s poor human rights record and relentless attempts to limit free access to information.
If even someone such as Lee can stand accused of threatening China’s national security, who is to say the same would not happen to a Taiwanese who shares photographs of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre with a Chinese friend, or discusses other incidents that are still considered taboo by Chinese authorities?
More than a few Taiwanese have done just that without thinking it could get them into trouble. Does that mean they now must all be vigilant and constantly watch their back whenever they travel to China or other territories controlled by Beijing?
Beijing’s loose definition of a “national security threat” suggests that not only human rights advocates could be subjected to unlawful arrests and detention on Chinese soil, but also ordinary Taiwanese who have simply said the wrong thing in the wrong place.
That means everyone is at risk of becoming the next “Lee Ming-che.”
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