Taiwanese businessman jailed over ‘Go Hong Kong!’ protest slogan


Lee Meng-chu believes he was targeted to support the idea that foreign forces were behind protests.

Taiwanese businessman jailed over 'Go Hong Kong!' protest slogan

Chinese authorities labeled Taiwanese businessman Lee Meng-chu a Taiwanese spy.

Taiwanese businessman Lee Meng-chu, who disappeared in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen in August 2019 at the height of the Hong Kong protest movement, says he was initially detained for carrying a card that read “Go Hong Kong!” – a common protest slogan at the time.

Lee’s possession of the slogan, along with photos he snapped from his hotel of armed police gathering nearby, was taken as evidence that he was “a Taiwan independence activist” trying to foment a “color revolution” – a populist uprising with foreign support – in the former British colony, he told Radio Free Asia in a recent interview.

Lee, also known as Morrison Lee, has previously described himself as a political hostage targeted due to anger in Beijing over Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s vocal support for the Hong Kong protest movement, and her government’s criticism of the Hong Kong authorities’ response.

He was released last year at the end of his one-year, 10-month jail term for “espionage” but held under restrictions for several more months before eventually being allowed to leave for Japan in July. 

He recently arrived back in Taiwan after 1,475 days away, and feels he now has an in-depth understanding of why millions of people took to Hong Kong’s streets to protest the erosion of their freedoms in 2019.

“On my first day in the detention center I understood why the people of Hong Kong want to have nothing to do with the black hole that is the mainland Chinese judicial system,” Lee, who at one point appeared on Chinese state television making a heavily scripted “confession,” told Radio Free Asia.

Landed during protests

When he flew to Hong Kong, he hadn’t expected to land in the middle of one of the biggest and most protracted campaigns of mass popular resistance the city had ever seen – sparked by attempts by then Chief Executive Carrie Lam to change the law to allow the extradition of alleged “criminal suspects” to face trial in mainland Chinese courts.

“The anti-extradition protests were under way, and when I read the headlines after getting off the plane, I saw that 1.75 million people had been to a mass rally in Victoria Park.”

“So I went along there for half an hour to take a look that evening,” Lee said.

The following day, he made a business trip to Shenzhen, staying overnight and having breakfast in his hotel the next day.

“I noticed there was a gathering of armed police in a stadium … just as they were reporting the [protests] in Hong Kong, and so I took a few pictures with my phone,” he said. “That’s all I did.”

Then, as he tried to clear the immigration checkpoint to get back into Hong Kong, his nightmare began.

Customs officials searched him and found a card bearing the slogan “Go Hong Kong!” and the photos of the armed police on his phone.

“The moment they saw the card, they yelled ‘What’s this?'” Lee said. “Three customs officers came over immediately, and one of them said ‘color revolution’.”

“It turns out that under the Chinese Communist Party system, this was a breach of state secrets, so I was smeared as a Taiwanese spy, a backbone of the Taiwan independence movement, and as an anti-China force come to disrupt Hong Kong,” he said.

“I still find it so baffling to this day.”

Forced confession

After his arrest, Lee was forced to “confess to his crimes” on state television.

“It was [arranged by] some people sent by the ministry of state security in Beijing,” he said. “They started banging on the table from the start and yelled at me that I had to cooperate, that I would get a lenient punishment if I did.”

“I remember recording it seven or eight times from start to finish,” Lee said. “When they weren’t happy [with the way I did it] they would tell me and direct me to say what they wanted.”

At the time the video clip was broadcast, a police officer from the Guangdong provincial state security police was quoted as saying that Lee’s behavior was “highly typical of Taiwanese independence forces intervening in Hong Kong’s affairs.”

Lee said the whole charge against him was “ridiculous.”

“I think they shot their arrow, then painted the target afterwards,” he said. “They grabbed a random passer-by and tried to turn them into a Taiwan independence activist colluding with Hong Kong independence activists.”

“Former [Hong Kong] Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa said the Hong Kong protests were instigated by external forces from Taiwan and the United States … so maybe that was the context,” Lee said.

“I’m guessing that they had orders from the central government [in Beijing] to arrest two or three Taiwanese nationals.”

He said foreign governments need to stay united to make sure their nationals don’t continue to be used as political hostages.

“Only when the governments of various democratic countries unite to establish an international hostage rescue platform and pool their leverage will they be able to negotiate with the Chinese Communist Party,” Lee said.

“Only then will they be able to rescue such hostages, and let them go home and be reunited with their families,” he said.

He called on Taiwan’s 23 million people to protect the “treasure” that is their freedom and democracy.

“Only people who have lost their freedom know how precious it is – like the air we breathe,” Lee said.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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