A China visa belonging to Lee Ching-yu, the wife of detained Taiwanese NGO worker Lee Ming-cheh, has been cancelled. Lee made the discovery as she attempted to board a flight to Beijing on Monday.
She previously said that she would go to the Chinese capital to “rescue” her husband. She attempted to board an EVA Air flight – jointly operated by the mainland’s state-owned Air China – from Taoyuan International Airport departing at 1pm.
However, staff at the Air China check-in counter told her that her Mainland Travel Permit – the equivalent of a visa given the non-recognition between the governments on either side of the strait – had been cancelled.
“Beijing notified us that your permit has been cancelled,” said a member of staff. The staffer added that he was not aware of the time and method by which Air China was notified, and the reasons for which the permit was cancelled.
Local newspaper United Daily News also reported that the Chinese Public Security Bureau informed Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency on Monday morning that her visa had been cancelled.
‘Endangering state security’
A supporter of civil society organisations in mainland China, Lee Ming-cheh went incommunicado on March 19 after flying from Taipei to Macau, and crossing the border into the city of Zhuhai in mainland China.
The Taiwan Affairs Office confirmed on March 28 that he was in detention on suspicion of engaging in activities which endanger state security.
“For China to detain Taiwanese people based on the reason of national security will only increase doubts for Taiwanese people travelling to China and affect normal exchanges between people of both sides,” said Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in a statement shortly afterwards.
Last Friday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office – the top administrative body responsible for cross-strait policy – said in a press release that it had notified Lee Ming-cheh’s wife of his situation.
The office added that it sent a letter, purportedly penned by Lee Ming-cheh himself, to his wife and parents out of “humanitarian concerns.” It said it sent the letter through “relevant Taiwanese organisations.”
Local online outlet Storm Media reported on Sunday that Lee Ching-yu did not accept the letter, because the intermediary who delivered it said that the letter was not the original copy.
According to the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, which is assisting Lee Ching-yu, the intermediary requested “in return for the letter” that she put aside her plans to travel to mainland China.
Then at the airport on Monday, Lee Ching-yu told reporters that she felt she had been threatened to discontinue her campaigning activities. “The Taiwan Affairs Office says it [sent the letter] out of humanitarian concern,” she said. “But in reality, it is threatening and enticing me.”
She said the intermediary had warned that her husband may appear on television “confessing” if she did not cease her campaign.
Lee Ching-yu said she had asked the intermediary to sign a “letter of guarantee” promising to help her husband, which she displayed to reporters. She revealed that the intermediary was Li Junmin, a former Taiwanese spy who spent 27 years in prison in the mainland.
“I promise to do my best… to ensure that Mr Lee will not appear and ‘confess’ on television, and ensure that Mrs Lee can meet with Mr Lee as soon as possible,” wrote the intermediary.
Since 2013, over a dozen people accused of wrongdoing – including foreign NGO workers such as Sweden’s Peter Dahlin and activist lawyers such as Huang Liqun – have “confessed” to their crimes on Chinese national television. There is widespread acceptance that these confessions are made under duress.
Lee Ming-cheh’s detention comes at a time of cooling cross-strait relations after the DPP – a nominally but no longer outspoken pro-independence party – came into power last May.
China also enacted an overseas NGO law on January 1, requiring any group operating within its borders to register with the police and be sponsored by a government entity.