Li, a Taiwanese citizen and member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), went missing at the end of March after he travelled from Taipei to mainland China via Macau. The Chinese authorities later confirmed that he had been detained for being “a threat to national security.” Li was officially arrested on May 26 on charges of “subverting State power.”
Reacting to the news of Li’s trial, Huang Chung-yen (黃重諺), spokesperson for Taiwan‘s Presidential Office, expressed the government’s “grave concern” over Li Ming-cheh’s situation, adding that the authorities are doing their utmost to help his family members. “The stance of the government is absolutely clear. Li Ming-cheh is a citizen of our country, and it is the consistent position of the government, under the premise of protecting the dignity of the nation, that it must protect the safety of our nationals and do all it can to help Li Ming-cheh come back home safely,” Huang said.
Li Ming-cheh’s trial began at 9:30 a.m and ended at 1.40 p.m. He was accused of agitating against the Chinese government by setting up groups on China’s popular social network QQ, where he allegedly “slandered” and “attacked” the government, inciting others to subversion.
According to Article 105 of the criminal code of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), individuals who organize “plots, or acts to subvert the political power of the state and overthrow the socialist system” face sentences ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment.
Li Ming-cheh appeared visibly nervous as he pleaded guilty and explained the nature of his alleged crimes. Taiwanese journalist and TV host Ts’ai Chen-yü has claimed that Li is likely to have been forced to recite statements prepared for him by the Communist authorities.
According to the official indictment, on March 19, 2017, Li Ming-cheh was placed under surveillance by the Security Bureau of Guangzhou, in Guangdong Province, on suspicions of “subverting State power.” On May 2, the National Security Bureau merged his case with that of Chinese national Peng Yuhua (彭宇華). On May 11 the People’s Procuratorate of Changsha City in Hunan Province issued an arrest warrant. Li was subsequently arrested by the People’s Police in Changsha.
“From 2012 to 2016, the defendants Peng Yuhua and Li Ming-cheh used QQ, Facebook, Weixin and other online social networks for the purpose of conducting large scale attacks against and to slander the Chinese government and the socialist system, and of inciting other people to subvert State power,” the indictment read.
“From August 2012 to the beginning of 2016, the defendant Li Ming-cheh repeatedly organized and took part in gatherings … in Guangdong Province, Fujian Province, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and other areas, during which he willfully attacked the country’s basic political system and defamed the government. In June and July 2015 … he clearly stated: ‘I have never thought a violent revolution should be ruled out’, ‘a rebellion will sooner or later happen’, [and] incited others to subvert State power.”
The trial was attended by Li’s mother as well as his wife, Li Ching-yü, who is also a political activist. After the trial she told reporters that she and the world had witnessed “a great political show” that demonstrates “the difference in core beliefs and values between Taiwan and China.” She added that she feels deep pain for the fact that what in Taiwan is considered discussion, “in China is an act of rebellion.”
China claims that Taiwan is part of its territory and insists that the government in Taipei recognize the ‘One-China Principle‘. Incumbent Taiwanese President Ts’ai Ing-wen has refused to yield to Beijing’s pressure.
Under the Guomindang one-party regime, Taiwan’s Constitution also prohibited acts of rebellion and suppressed freedom of speech. Under Article 100, whoever attempted “to sabotage the state system, to undermine the country’s territorial sovereignty, or to unlawfully subvert the constitution or the government” would be sentenced “to not less than seven years imprisonment”, while “the ringleader(s)” would be “punished with life imprisonment.”
In the late 1980s Taiwan began a successful process of democratization. Although Beijing insists on “reunification” with Taiwan, the trial of Li Ming-cheh is likely to be perceived on the island as another proof that rapprochement with the Communist dictatorship would endanger the freedom and rule of law Taiwanese people have long struggled for.
Despite Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledges to promote the rule of law, under his tenure the Communist government has rather sought to consolidate rule by law, as demonstrated by the renewed emphasis on confessions and show trials.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations has described the rule of law as “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.”
By contrast, rule by law exists when a state relies on law to govern but does not accept “the basic requirement that law bind the state and state actors” (Randall Peerenboom: Varieties of Rule of Law, in: Theories and Implementation of Rule of Law in Twelve Asian Countries, France, and the U.S., 2004, p. 2). Rule by law in China is well established and consistent with its Legalist and Communist legal traditions.
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