Taiwan protested Monday Kenya’s deportation of five Taiwanese citizens to China after they were acquitted of running a cybercrime cell last week, as relations with Beijing worsen under the island’s new president.
Kenya’s actions are just the latest in a recent spate of deportations of Taiwanese to China, with Taipei accusing Beijing of “abducting” citizens from countries that do not recognise the island’s government.
A Kenyan court on Friday acquitted 35 Chinese and five Taiwanese held in custody since December 2014 for allegedly running a cybercrime cell from an upmarket Nairobi suburb on the grounds that the prosecution had failed to prove their involvement.
The group was accused of being involved in running an unlicensed telecommunication system and was engaged in organised crime — charges they had denied.
Kenya deported dozens of Taiwanese in April also accused of fraud, after they had been cleared of charges.
Observers read the deportation cases as a Chinese bid to pressurise Taiwan’s new Beijing-sceptic leader Tsai Ing-wen — who took office in May.
But Beijing insists that Taiwanese fraud suspects be sent to China to face trial as their alleged telecom crimes largely target mainland Chinese.
The five Taiwanese were deported to China in a flight that took off from Kenya around midnight Sunday, despite the court’s decision for them to be returned to Taiwan, according to officials in Taipei.
“We express strong protest to the Kenyan government… We regret that Kenyan authorities bowed to pressure from China to forcefully deport five suspects from our country to China,” the foreign ministry said.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), its top China policy-making body, said it lodged a protest with Beijing over the latest round of deportations.
“The Chinese side ignored our repeated calls not to deport our people to China and seriously hurt the feelings of Taiwanese people,” it said in a statement.
MAC said it will continue to negotiate with China to secure the suspects’ return to Taiwan to stand trial.
The president’s spokesman Alex Huang also voiced concerns over the deportations, saying it “violated human rights and international precedent”.
The deportations fly in the face of condemnation from rights groups, with Amnesty International saying last week the Taiwanese face potential “human rights violations” if sent to the mainland.
Taipei has also protested the recent deportations of Taiwanese fraud suspects from Malaysia and Cambodia to China.
Relations between Taiwan and China have grown increasingly frosty since Tsai and her the Democratic Progressive Party came to power.
China insists that self-ruling Taiwan is part of its territory even though the two sides split in 1949 after a civil war.