BEIJING (Reuters) - A Taiwanese activist on trial in China confessed on Monday to attempting to subvert the Beijing government, according to videos of his hearing released by Chinese authorities, although his wife refused to recognise the court’s authority.
Lee Ming-che, a community college teacher known for his pro-democracy and rights activism, went missing on a trip to mainland China in March. China’s authorities later confirmed that he was being investigated on suspicion of damaging national security.
Lee said he accepted the charge of subversion and expressed regret in videos of his comments released on social media by the Yueyang City Intermediate People’s Court in central Hunan province.
“I spread some attacks, theories that maliciously attacked and defamed China’s government, the Chinese Communist Party and China’s current political system, and I incited the subversion of state power,” Lee said, referring to comments written in an instant messaging group.
Taiwan’s presidential office said in a news briefing on Monday afternoon that the government is engaged in an “all-out effort to assist Mr. Lee Ming-che’s family.”
“His relief is our top priority. The position of this government has been very clear. Mr. Lee is one of our citizens,” an office spokesman said, adding: “We’ll do everything in our power to ensure his safe return.”
Lee stood trial alongside Chinese national Peng Yuhua, 37, who confessed to creating instant messaging groups and founding an organization that sought to promote political change in China. Lee had been involved in both, Peng said in testimony released on video by the court.
Taiwanese rights activist Xiao Yiming travelled to the mainland for the trial, but said he was barred from entering the courtroom.
Xiao suspected Peng was being used by authorities to help strengthen the state’s case against Lee, as he was unaware of any previous connection between the two men.
“Taiwan has democratic freedoms and Lee has the right to share his ideas,” Xiao told Reuters by phone, describing Lee as a “prisoner of conscience”.
Lee Ching-yu, Lee’s wife, attended the hearing. Before leaving for China she had asked that Lee’s supporters to forgive him for anything he might say that disappoints them during the hearing.
She wrote a letter to her husband on Monday morning before the trial began, photographs of which were seen by Reuters.
“I do not recognise this court. I also did not hire any lawyers,” she wrote.
After the hearing, she tearfully repeated her request for forgiveness and unveiled what appeared to be two new tattoos on the underside of each of her forearms that read, “Lee Ming-che” and “I am proud of you”, videos sent to Reuters showed.
No one answered the court phone when called by Reuters on Monday.
Releasing videos and transcripts of court hearings has become increasingly common in China as part of a push for greater judicial transparency and oversight.
But rights activists say that in sensitive cases holding “open” trials allows authorities to demonstrate state power and deter others, with statements and verdicts usually agreed in advance.
Ties between Beijing and Taipei have been strained since President Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, took office last year.
Tsai’s refusal to state that Taiwan and China are part of one country has angered Beijing, as have her comments about human rights on the mainland.
Beijing maintains that the island of Taiwan is part of China and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control, while proudly democratic Taiwan has shown no interest in being governed by the Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
Reporting by Christian Shepherd and Beijing newsroom; Additional reporting by Faith Hung in Taipei; Editing by Tony Munroe and Clarence Fernandez