Colleague: Missing Taiwan activist talked politics on WeChat

AP News
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Posted: Mar 28, 2017 8:54 AM

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — A Taiwanese pro-democracy activist believed to be in Chinese custody may have attracted the attention of China's security services after he used the social media site WeChat to discuss China-Taiwan relations, a colleague said Tuesday.

Lee Ming-che, 42, disappeared after clearing immigration on March 19 in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of Macau and never showed up for a planned meeting later that day with a friend across the border in the Chinese city of Zhuhai, according to Chiu Yi-ling, secretary general of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, where Lee had been a volunteer.

Cheng Hsiu-chuan, president of Taipei's Wenshan Community College where Lee has worked for the past year as a program director, said it's likely that Lee attracted the attention of Chinese security last year after using WeChat to "teach" an unknown number of people about China-Taiwan relations under the government of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.

"For China, the material he was teaching would be seen as sensitive," Cheng said. WeChat has millions of active users and is hugely popular as a means of communication in China.

Lee had traveled annually to China for the past decade to see friends, Cheng said. He would discuss human rights in private but had never held any public events there, Cheng said.

However, in mid-2016 Chinese authorities shut down Lee's WeChat account and confiscated a box of books published in Taiwan on political and cultural issues, Cheng said.

"According to the news we've gotten, the state security bureau there doesn't know how to handle Lee's case," Cheng said.

On his most recent trip, Lee planned to see friends and get Chinese medicine for his mother-in-law in Taiwan, his wife, Lee Ching-yu said. He was expected to stay in the southern Chinese hub city Guangzhou through March 26, she said.

Lee Ching-yu said a Taiwanese government agency also told her this week it had indirect information pointing to a Chinese state security detention.

"I want the government of China to act like a civilized country and tell me what they're doing with my husband on what legal grounds and, like a civilized country, what they plan to do with him," Lee said.

Police and government officials in southern China either could not be reached or said they had no information about Lee. China's foreign ministry said it was unaware of his case.

China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, a free-wheeling democracy with freedoms largely unknown on the authoritarian, Communist-ruled mainland. China insists that the two sides must eventually unify and has raised pressure on Taiwan since the election last year of President Tsai, whose Democratic Progressive Party advocates for Taiwan's formal independence. China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949.

Taiwan's semi-governmental Straits Exchange Foundation said it has asked its China counterpart for information.

The Taiwan government's Mainland Affairs Council, a China policymaking body, demanded Monday that Chinese government departments disclose their "handling" of Lee and ensure his safety.

"The government is paying a high degree of attention to Mr. Lee's safety or danger and will continue doing its utmost to help his family members," the council said in a statement.