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Rights groups call on China to release Taiwanese man who attended Hong Kong protests

Human rights groups have hit out at China over ongoing restrictions being imposed on Taiwan businessman Lee Meng-chu, also known as Morrison Lee, following his release from jail.

Lee “disappeared” in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen after taking photos of troops gathering near the border during the 2019 Hong Kong protest movement and sending them back to contacts in Taiwan.

He later appeared making a “confession” on Chinese state television, before being sentenced to one year and 10 months’ imprisonment and two years’ deprivation of political rights.

Although Lee was recently released from prison at the end of his jail term, the authorities are preventing him from going home to loved ones on the democratic island of Taiwan, saying his “punishment” hasn’t been completed, as the two years’ deprivation of political rights has yet to expire.

“The Chinese government’s deprivation of political rights [sentencing] is in breach of international human rights law,” Eeling Chiu, secretary-general of Amnesty International’s Taiwan branch, said in a statement on the group’s website. “No prisoner should be deprived of their right to freedom of speech, let alone those who have served out their sentences.”

Chiu said Lee’s trial had been full of procedural flaws and hadn’t met international requirements to be judged a fair trial.

“The Chinese government should return Mr. Lee Meng-chu to Taiwan as soon as possible, and end its serious violations of his right to freedom of thought, expression, assembly and association,” Chiu said.

The rights group Safeguard Defenders said Lee had been held in a “secret jail” system known as Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) from August 2019 after taking part in the 2019 Hong Kong protest movement, which began as a mass protest against plans to allow extradition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial in mainland Chinese, and broadened to include calls for fully democratic elections.

Politically motivated

It said Lee’s prosecution was politically motivated, and that the same rules regarding deprivation of political rights hadn’t been applied to a more prominent Taiwanese activist, Lee Ming-cheh, who was allowed to leave China as soon as his jail term ended.

It said there are at least three other Taiwanese nationals currently in Chinese jails on “spying” charges: Shih Cheng-ping; Tsai Chin-shu and Cheng Yu-chin.

According to the Exit and Entry Administration Law of the People’s Republic of China (Article 12-2), Chinese nationals sentenced to criminal punishment are banned from leaving the country if the punishment has not been completed.

Taiwan has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), nor formed part of the People’s Republic of China, but its nationals are regarded as Chinese citizens under another administration by Beijing.

The majority of Taiwan’s 23 million people say they have no wish to give up their country’s sovereignty or lose their democratic way of life under Chinese rule.

“By not allowing Morrison Lee to leave, Beijing is … violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which it signed in 1998, although not yet ratified,” Safeguard Defenders said in a statement.

“Safeguard Defenders urges China to respect its own laws and international rights norms and allow Morrison Lee, who has served his time, to go home and reunite with his family,” it said.

It added: “China also manipulates deprivation of political rights to prevent Chinese rights defenders from freely going home after release from jail, instead subjecting them to weeks, months, even years of continued illegal detention.”

No ‘political rights’

Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, told a news conference on Wednesday that Lee is currently serving “an additional sentence,” in a reference to the two years’ deprivation of political rights.

Shih Yi-hsiang, head of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, said Lee Meng-chu would likely not even be able to exercise “political rights” in China, so the exit ban made no sense.

“The Taiwan Association for Human Rights believes that, in any case, Lee Meng-chu is not a Chinese citizen, but a Taiwanese citizen,” Shih said. “It is meaningless to insist on some additional sentence now.”

“We think this is ridiculous; the Chinese government has no reason to force Lee to stay in China, and we advocate his safe return to Taiwan,” Shih told RFA.

Yang Sen-hong, president of the Taiwan Association for China Human Rights, said the CCP makes a habit of arbitrarily arresting people.

“You have to be very strong when standing up to the CCP regime,” Yang said. “I hope that the Taiwanese government and its Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) will actively move to rescue Lee Meng-chu.”

The MAC declined to comment, saying it was respecting the stated wishes of Lee and his family.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.