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Taiwan activist pleads guilty in Chinese subversion trial

Lee Ming-che is on trial together with Chinese activist Peng Yuhua (right, in white). Photo: Getty Images

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 recognize the court's authority.

"I spread articles that maliciously attacked the Communist Party of China, China's existing system and China's government," the activist, Lee Ming-che, told the court in the central Chinese city of Yueyang. Lee said that he also organized people and wrote articles "intended to subvert the state's power."

Lee said that 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.

Lee, 42, a non-governmental organization worker and a community college teacher known for his pro-democracy and rights activism, went missing on a trip to the Chinese mainland in March. China's authorities later confirmed that he was being investigated on suspicion of damaging national security and subverting state power. He has conducted online lectures on Taiwan's democratization and managed a fund for families of political prisoners in China.

Lee's family and colleagues have said that he did regularly exchange messages with friends in the Chinese mainland discussing democracy and mainland-Taiwan relations, but that he had done nothing wrong and only shared his experiences as an activist.

Little information has been given by Chinese authorities, but the case has gripped Taiwan amid already strained relations with the Chinese mainland.

Amnesty International and other rights organizations have called for his immediate release.

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 traveled to the Chinese mainland for the trial, but said he was barred from entering the courtroom. "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. She had warned that her husband may be pressured to make a confession against his will.

She wrote a letter to her husband on Monday morning before the trial began, photographs of which were seen by Reuters.

"I do not recognize this court. I also did not hire any lawyers," she wrote.

Lee's case is China's first prosecution of a nonprofit worker on criminal charges since Beijing passed a law tightening controls over foreign non-governmental organizations.

The law says that foreign NGOs must not endanger China's national security and ethnic unity, and subjects nonprofit groups to close police supervision. It is seen as an attempt to clamp down on perceived threats to the ruling Communist Party's control.

Relations between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan have been near an all-time low since the election of Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen, whose Democratic Progressive Party has advocated Taiwan's formal independence. Beijing cut off contacts with Taiwan's government in June, five months after Tsai was elected.

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.

Tsai has called on Chinese authorities to return Lee safely, and to "not let this case be an impediment" to relations.

"China may perhaps see this as a small matter, but in reality, this is a huge cross-strait issue," she said in a statement in April.

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