Chinese authorities have warned against attempts to use the case of Taiwanese activist Lee Ming-cheh to attack the country’s legal system. His trial Has been criticised by Taiwanese authorities, Lee’s wife, and international rights organisations.

Lee was tried by a Chinese court in central Hunan province on Monday, along with Chinese activist Peng Yuhua. Lee “confessed” to charges of “subverting state power,” stating that he wrote and distributed articles which were critical of the Communist Party and promoted democracy.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) said during a regular briefing that the legal rights of Lee and his family had been upheld, and that Lee was tried according to the law at an “open trial.” His wife and mother were permitted to watch the trial and meet with Lee afterwards, he added.

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Lee Ming-cheh and Peng Yuhua stand trial. Photo: Screenshot/Yueyang Intermediate People’s Court.

“Any attempts to use this case for political motives, to influence or slander the mainland’s handling of the case according to the law, or to attack the mainland’s political and legal institutions, will be futile,” it said.

Lee, a community college manager and NGO worker, had not been heard from since he disappeared while crossing into the mainland city of Zhuhai from Macau. Chinese authorities later confirmed he was being held on subversion charges.

Before his disappearance, Lee participated in discussions on democracy in online chat groups with activists in China, and was a supporter of Chinese civil organisations.

‘A political show’

Speaking to Taiwanese media in her hotel room after the trial, Lee’s wife Lee Ching-yu said her husband was forced to confess, and asked the public to forgive him for the actions in court that were not of his free will.

Lee read out a statement saying she was allowed to see her husband after the trial under the surveillance of the media and police. She said he told her: “Don’t talk [about the case] any more when you go back to Taiwan.”

“But he clenched me with his hand, and his eyes were blinking,” she continued. “My heart was hurting, but I will not be blinded. After more than 20 years together, I know what his true meaning was.”

She called the trial a “political show,” and said “it clearly demonstrated one thing – the custom of discussion in Taiwan is an act of rebellion in China.”

“Taiwanese people cannot accept this, and neither can the civilised world.”

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Lee Ming-cheh speaks with Lee Ching-yu after the trial. Photo: Screenshot/Yueyang Intermediate People’s Court.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said on Monday that during the time Lee was being held, the authorities only issued two updates through the TAO, and did not allow Lee to see his family.

The circumstances of Lee’s “confession” were not fully in line with the due legal processes, and did not offer a result that “the outside world can fully agree with or accept,” it said.

Amnesty International has called Lee’s hearing a “sham trial” and said his charges were meant to send a warning to other NGO workers promoting human rights and democracy. Meanwhile, US-based Human Rights Watch said “the prosecution presented no evidence suggesting the pair’s activities were anything but acts of peaceful expression and association.” It urged their release.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.