China detains Taiwanese man who reportedly shared troop photos at Hong Kong border

Nicola Smith
Armored vehicles have been spotted in Shenzhen, a Chinese city bordering Hong Kong - AP

China has arrested a Taiwanese man on state security charges after he crossed from Hong Kong into the mainland and reportedly shared pictures of troops, renewing fears about arbitrary detention amid the ongoing political unrest in the financial hub. 

Lee Meng-chu, a volunteer activity organiser in the small Taiwanese fishing community of Fangliao, went missing on August 20 when he entered Shenzhen, a border city which links Hong Kong to Southeast China. 

Mr Lee, who studied in the US and is also known by the name Morrison, allegedly shared information about the ongoing Hong Kong protests on social media and sent Chen Ya-lin, the Fangliao mayor, a photo of Chinese troops massing equipment on the city’s border. 

The Shenzhen police had previously told Mr Lee’s worried family that they had no record of him arriving in the city, despite local friends reporting that they had dinner together before he disappeared. 

Last month the Taiwanese government also made official enquiries about his whereabouts but received no reply from China. 

On Wednesday, Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing, confirmed that he was being investigated after he “allegedly engaged in illegal activities that endanger state security.” Mr Ma did not elaborate further. 

Lee Meng-chu was detained after crossing from Hong Kong into mainland China in August Credit: Pingtung County Fangliao Township Office

Mr Lee’s detention comes amid reports of Chinese citizens being arrested or harassed in relation to the protests, and of the Chinese authorities checking the phones of passengers travelling to the mainland from Hong Kong. 

Last month Simon Cheng, an official at the UK’s Hong Kong consulate was held in Shenzhen for 15 days before being released without charge. His supporters believe he was investigated for signs of supporting the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement in an attempt to suppress free speech.  

The Taiwanese government, which has tense relations with China, said it was “deeply concerned” about Mr Lee’s detention and urged the “relevant agencies” to negotiate “in full force” over the issue. 

Friends of Mr Lee expressed their fears about his well-being and the growing risk of enforced disappearances and China’s opaque justice system on his Facebook page.

His case has been compared to Taiwanese rights activist Lee Ming-che, who disappeared for weeks in southern China in 2017 before resurfacing to be sentenced to five years in prison for “the subversion of state power.”