Taiwanese democracy activist Lee Ming-che yesterday confessed to attempting to subvert the Chinese government during a trial that was slammed as a "sham" by human rights groups and which soured already fraught cross-strait ties.
Lee, 42, admitted to the charges read out to him - that he wrote and distributed articles critical of the Chinese government and advocating multi-party rule, among other things.
At the trial with him was mainland Chinese Peng Yuhua, 37, with whom Lee was accused of collaborating to have the articles posted on chat groups on the WeChat app.
"I deeply regret my actions," said Lee, in an open trial at the intermediate court of Yueyang city in central Hunan province. The court posted videos of the trial on its social media account.
Lee, a community college teacher and former staff member of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), disappeared after crossing into mainland China from Macau on March 19.
On March 29, Beijing announced that he had been detained for allegedly "pursuing activities harmful to national security".
In May, the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) revealed that Lee was being held in Hunan province on suspicion of "subverting state power".
It was not until last Wednesday that the TAO said Lee's case would be heard yesterday.
This was as Lee's wife Ching-yu was preparing to leave for the United Nations today to report his disappearance, according to a report by US-funded broadcaster Voice of America.
After yesterday's trial, Lee was allowed to meet his wife and his mother, who had travelled to Yueyang on Sunday.
His wife, in a letter yesterday to Lee, wrote that she was proud of him and that "I do not recognise this court". On Saturday, she had asked Lee's supporters to forgive him if he were to be forced to confess in court.
Mr Patrick Poon of the human rights group Amnesty International told Agence France-Presse he thought the trial was a "sham", adding that "there is no way that the trial was a fair trial according to international standards".
Taiwan's presidential office yesterday said the government was engaged in an "all-out effort" to help Lee's family. "We'll do everything in our power to ensure his safe return," said a spokesman.
According to the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, Lee had been sharing Taiwan's democratic experiences online with his Chinese friends for many years. He had also met Peng several times on the mainland.
His detention comes at a time when the cross-strait relationship has chilled considerably, ever since the DPP's Ms Tsai Ing-wen became President in May last year.
Ms Tsai has refused to acknowledge the 1992 consensus between the two sides that both China and Taiwan belong to one China, with each side having its own interpretation of what this means.
Beijing, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province, sees recognition of the 1992 consensus as the basis for stable and peaceful cross- strait ties. It has cut off official communication with Taiwan.
Analyst Lee Chih Horng, who teaches cross-strait relations at the Nanyang Technological University, believes Beijing detained Lee and put him on trial in order to embarrass the Tsai government.
"It is to show how incapable the DPP (and Tsai) are in dealing with the cross-strait relations," he said.
Taiwan opposition legislator Yang Chen-wu told the island's media that the incident showed the lack of trust and communication mechanism between the two sides.