The jailing of Lee Ming-che and the response it should receive from the world

Lee Ming-che’s sentence is an affront to international law, but like so many other such cases will be overlooked by the global community which lacks the moral courage to condemn China

So, the wheels of Chinese “justice” have set in motion once more and decided that the supposed crimes committed by Taiwanese national Lee Ming-che (李明哲) warrant a five-year jail term. It is worth looking at the precise details of Lee’s case to understand just what a worrying precedent it sets.

To briefly summarize, Lee wrote about Chinese democracy on the internet while in Taiwan, traveled to Macau where he was kidnapped by Chinese security services and taken over the border, where he was detained and had a confession extracted from him, almost certainly under duress. He was then forced to take part in a show-trial before being sentenced to a 5-year jail term with no rights to appeal or parole.

Lee was a volunteer for the Taiwan Association for Human Rights and had traveled safely and freely to China on numerous occasions over the past ten years. In March, he did not get further than Macau, a "Special Administrative Area" like Hong Kong, where officially Chinese security services should not be operating.

It took ten days for him to miraculously reappear over the border in China and in custody. His crime? Writing about the idea of democracy on a social media group which was formed by Chinese national Peng Yuhua. Peng himself was sentenced to 7 years in jail.

The official crime he has been sentenced for is “subversion of state power" a chillingly Orwellian term which is utterly meaningless to many in the free world, where criticizing your Government is as normal as breathing in and out. What the case of Lee shows is that criticizing the Chinese regime, even from outside Chinese territory, is now seen as a punishable offense and that has potential ramifications for everyone.

Chinese contempt for international law

William Nee, a researcher with Amnesty International told the AFP news agency that the sentence was “an absolute disgrace… Lee Ming-che should not have to spend a day in jail since everything he did - peacefully discuss current events and historical issues on social media - is expressly protected under international law."

This is of course by no means the first time that China has willfully ignored international law when it has been politically advantageous to the CCP to do so. And it will not be the last either, but it is fully aware that the international community will do nothing about it.

There has been no condemnation for the sentence from the United Nations, the USA, the UK, the European Union, or any other democratic state, apart from Taiwan. And while the issue might be quietly raised in diplomatic backchannels, it is highly unlikely that any western leader will raise it directly with Xi Jinping or any other senior Communist Party leaders either.

When Donald Trump visited China earlier this month he did not see fit to raise the case of Lee Ming-che or Liu Xia, the widow of human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, whose location and well-being is currently unknown. However, he did raise the case of a group of college basketball players accused of shoplifting. This example clearly illustrates where the priorities of the US and the Western world lies on this issue.

The normalization of China’s horrendous behavior

The sentence of Lee Ming-che has made headlines, if not front page news, around the world. This is of course as it should be, but the story will quickly disappear, as will the next example of China’s abuse of human rights, and the one after that too.

The world has seemingly come to accept the idea that China is a human rights abuser. As long as they keep spending their money in the west, we will tolerate such misdemeanors. If cases like Lee Ming-che raise any response at all, it is nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders and a “what can we do?”

But by normalizing such activity, what the international community is really doing is encouraging and facilitating it. This is completely unacceptable in situations which are clearly in breach of international law and for which China should be held to account. At the very least, there should be public condemnation of every case like Lee Ming-che by global leaders.

To read more, click on Part Two of this article.