Freedom of Expression Is Not A Crime! Free Li, Ming-Che Immediately!

【Joint statement from Taiwan NGOs alliance for rescuing Mr. Li, Ming-Che】(中文版)

Today (28th of November) marks the 254th day since the Taiwanese human rights activist, Li, Ming-Che (李明哲) was first forced to disappear by the Chinese authorities on the 19th of March earlier this year. It was not until two months later on 26th of May that the Chinese authority confirmed his arrest. Yet to see Li standing in his trial took us six months after his first arrest on 11th of September. This morning, Li was sentenced to five years in prison by the Chinese court for “subversion of state power.” The court also stripped him of all political rights in China for two years.

Today’s verdict shows that the legitimacy of the Chinese regime in imminent danger of falling down so that the regime keeps suppressing people at home and from abroad to maintain the stability it seems from outside. For instance, a recent apartment fire in Beijing caused many casualties. However, the Chinese government impose mass eviction of low-income migrant workers to prevent them from gathering and protesting in the Chinese capital. This has proved again the suppression of dissenting voices in public by the Chinese government.

Much of the Li, Ming-Che case, from his detention and arrest to the trial and Li’s verdict, has violated international human rights conventions as well as Chinese Criminal Procedure Law. As the first Taiwanese to be tried for “subversion of state power,” the evidences used against him in court were in fact his peaceful expressions of speech on social media while he was still in Taiwan. Li, Ming-Che is not a citizen of the People’s Republic of China. Therefore China’s action to arrest and indict a non-citizen for his actions taken outside its borders is an obvious breach of jurisdiction. Most importantly, the freedom of speech is guaranteed under the international laws and Taiwanese Law. His peaceful expression of speech must not be considered as a “criminal behavior.” Li’s co-defendant, Mr. Peng, Yu-Hua, though to be a Chinese citizen, was also sentenced to seven years in prison today for exercising his freedom of speech. It is also possible that Mr. Peng has become an innocent casualty of China’s case against Li. We express our most sincere regrets to Mr. Peng.

Considering the continuing violation of human rights and its own Criminal Procedure Law on the Li’ case, we fiercely demand the Chinese authority, according to the law, to guarantee Li’s rights and health condition both mentally and physically in prison as well as the rights of his family to visit him. We demand that, according to the law, the personal safety and freedom of Li’s family members while they are in China to visit him must also be protected.

Li, Ming-Che is the first foreign NGO worker to be arrested in China since the controversial law, “Law of the People's Republic of China on the Administration of Activities of Overseas Non-Governmental Organizations within the Territory of China,” came into force in January 2017. Li was not only arrested and detained illegally but also sentenced to prison for “inciting subversion of state power” under Chinese criminal law. The fact that China further stripped a non-citizen’s all political rights and freedom of expression is a disgraceful behavior of an already-serious violation of international law. Moreover, this sets a precedent in which China can persecute Taiwanese citizens simply for exercising their freedom of speech in their home country. This case has caught the attention of the international community. It shows China’s shifting tactics in suppression against overseas human rights activists and makes an example for all Taiwanese who care about human rights in China, attempting to create a chilling effect of self-censorship by both Taiwanese and the international community.

China’s Arrogant Disrespect Of Rights Is Also Damaging Cross-Strait Relations.

When the Chinese government detained Li, a Taiwanese citizen, they failed to notify Taiwan, as outlined in the existing Cross-Strait Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement. They also deprived him of his right to family visits as guaranteed by the Agreement. China even ignored communications and inquiries made by the Taiwanese government. Instead, an Chinese individual was sent as a “fixer” to strike a secret deal with Li’s family. This fundamentally undermines the basis of rule of law for normal interactions between the two countries. 

The Taiwanese Government Should Protest Against China’s Expansion Of Jurisdiction.

In 2014, China’s attempt to manipulate Taiwanese politics with economic means was challenged by the student-led Sunflower Movement, marking a failure in Beijing’s policies towards Taiwan. The arrest of Li, Ming-Che is a obvious tactic by China to expand its jurisdiction unilaterally, creating a “new normalcy” in which the Taiwanese becomes accustomed to China’s invasion into Taiwan’s sovereignty.

President Tsai, Ing-Wen and Tsai’s administration must lodge a stern protest with higher profile and establish a rescue procedure and countermeasure as soon as possible for future incidents like Li’s case. President Tsai and her government must react more than just making public statements, they must prevent the rights of Taiwanese citizens from being partitioned by China at will, without any rule of law.

The Li Ming-Che Rescue Team has been on a yellow ribbon campaign in support of Li. The campaign as well as our ongoing seminars around Taiwan has been continuing to increase the awareness and understanding from the people. We all to support as we are determined to defend democracy and human rights. Finally, we urge the Taiwanese government to establish an effective procedure and countermeasure in response to such of Chinese behavior.

 

【Li, Ming-Che case, a 2017 timeline】

March 19 — Li disappears after crossing from Macau into Zhuhai in China’s Guangdong province.

March 24 — “Where Is Li?” joint press conference is held by Li’s family and the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR) and additional rights groups.

March 29 — China’s Taiwan Affairs Office announces at a press briefing that Li had been detained for “pursuing activities harmful to national security” and that he was “under investigation by relevant authorities on the mainland.”

April 6 — Appeals to the United Nations made by Taiwan’s Covenants Watch.

April 7 — Petition signed by 147 global NGO’s calling for Li’s release is presented at a joint press conference by TAHR and civic groups. Signees included international human rights organizations, overseas Taiwanese students, and law professor Jerome Cohen.

April 10 — Li’s wife Li, Ching-Yu is barred from boarding a flight from Taipei to China. Her mainland travel permit had been canceled by China.

April 11 – Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council calls for China to tell the truth and grant family visitation rights. A global campaign for the forced disappearance of Li, Ming-Che is launched by Amnesty International.

May 18 — Appeals to the U.S. House of Representatives made by Li, Ching-Yu at a foreign affairs subcommittee hearing. 

May 26 — China’s Taiwan Affairs Office reveals that Li had been arrested on “subversion of state power” charges by Hunan provincial security units.

June 23 — United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances considers Li’s case. Families and organizations are invited to attend its 113th session in Geneva in September.

July 6 — European Parliament passes a resolution calling for the Chinese authorities to release Li immediately and to ensure he is allowed access to his family.

August 22 — Li, Ming-Che Rescue Team is formed by an alliance of civic groups. Informational seminars and awareness events are planned around Taiwan.

September 6 — China’s Taiwan Affairs Office confirms that Li is to be tried at the Yueyang City Intermediate People’s Court in Hunan province.

September 10 — Li’s wife and mother arrive in China. They are accompanied by a legal consultant commissioned by Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council and officials from the Straits Exchange Foundation and civic groups.

September 11 — Li’s trial runs from 9:30am to 1:40pm. He makes a forced confession. A verdict is said to be announced at a later date. Li was allowed to meet his family briefly.

September 12 — Representatives from the Li, Ming-Che Rescue Team stages flash demonstrations in Geneva with local Taiwanese associations.

September 13 — Representatives from the Li, Ming-Che Rescue Team attend the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances session in Geneva.

September 17 — Hundreds of supporters participate in the “China! Free Li” demonstration in Taipei, Taiwan.

November 7 — A yellow ribbon campaign is launched by the Li, Ming-Che Rescue Team as the sentencing period is set to expire. A “Li, Ming-Che Tree” is named in Taipei.

November 24 — Li’s family is contacted by China’s court-appointed lawyers. The verdict of Li’s trial is to be announced in Hunan at 9:15 am on November 28.

November 28 — Li is sentenced to five years in prison for “subversion of state power.