Media reports said Beijing has imposed an exit ban on Morrison Lee because in addition to 22-months in jail, he was also sentenced to two years of deprivation of political rights on charges of spying.
Lee disappeared in August 2019 from Shenzhen in southern China shortly after he had taken part in anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong.
He was held under China’s secret jail system, Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), and later appeared as one of several Taiwanese giving forced confessions on state television broadcaster CCTV.
Lee was tried in secret, accused of espionage, based on photos he took of military drills in Shenzhen. However, better quality photo and video of the same scene were also published on Chinese media, indicating that his prosecution was politically-motivated.
Lee’s case has attracted media attention because another Taiwanese activist, Lee Ming-che, was recently allowed to return home to Taiwan after finishing his five-year prison term even though he was also sentenced to two years of deprivation of political rights.
Indeed, in the weeks leading up to his release, human rights groups were worried that China would weaponize the deprivation of political rights to prevent him from coming home.
The two Lees are not the only ones. In 2020, China said it captured over 100 Taiwanese spies and although there are doubts about that claim, human rights groups are aware of at least three other Taiwanese — Shih Cheng-ping, Tsai Chin-shu and Cheng Yu-chin — who were also jailed in China on spying charges.
Rights groups have urged China to respect its own laws and international rights norms and allow Morrison Lee, who has served his time, to go home and reunite with his family.
“China also manipulates deprivation of political rights to prevent Chinese rights defenders from freely going home after release from jail, instead subjecting them to weeks, months, even years of continued illegal detention under house arrest or confinement at a hotel or facility in a phenomenon called Non-Release Release,” rights organisation Safeguard Defenders said.