“It was illegal for them to be deported. To be deported you have to have broken the law,” Isinta tells Quartz. ”It’s because of pressure from China,” he said.

Officials from Taiwan’s liaison office in South Africa, its closest diplomatic office to Kenya, say they have information that Chinese authorities pressured Kenyan police (link in Chinese) to deport the group. Taiwan’s ministry of foreign affairs called these deportations “an uncivilized act of extrajudicial abduction,” orchestrated by Beijing.

Another group of 22 Taiwanese arrested last week on similar suspicions of cybercrime was also deported to China today, a representative from Taiwan’s office in South Africa, who is in Nairobi to deal with the situation, told Quartz.

That brings the number of Taiwanese nationals in Kenya who have been sent back to China rather than Taiwan up to 45.

The largest group of Chinese nationals to be charged in Kenya.
The largest group of Chinese nationals to be charged in Kenya.
Image: Quartz

Africa was one of the first battlegrounds for Beijing’s one-China policy—the principle that there is only one China and that is the one represented by the Chinese Communist Party. Kenya has sided squarely with China, recognizing Beijing since the East African country gained independence in the 1960s. It does not extend diplomatic recognition to Taiwan.

Most Kenyans don’t understand what the controversy is about, nor do they care, according to Isinta. But that doesn’t legitimize the actions of the Kenyan police. Isinta has filed a motion to take the country’s attorney general and the police boss to court over the detention and deportation of his clients after their acquittal.

“It doesn’t matter if Taiwan belongs to China or vice versa. That is for international law to answer. My issue is that these are people who were kept illegally.”

China and Taiwan have an agreement not to extradite each other’s citizens. Taiwanese nationals suspected of an investment scam were deported to China from the Philippines in 2011. It took Taipei almost five months to have them sent back to Taiwan.

The diplomatic imbroglio in Kenya isn’t over. The second group of accused who are awaiting a verdict in June includes five Taiwanese nationals. After a hearing in Nairobi’s Miliman court yesterday, Chinese and Taiwanese representatives got into a heated argument when the Taiwanese official tried to speak with a Taiwanese national being held at the court.

According to Joseph Chen, from Taiwan’s office in South Africa, the Chinese diplomat told him he had no authority to speak to the accused because Kenya does not recognize Taiwan and there is no Taiwanese consulate in Kenya.

“He put his finger on my nose and said you are not embassy. It was very disrespectful,” Chen told Quartz. Witnesses said the heated argument devolved into shoving, but Chen said the altercation was a verbal one. ”He shouted at me. I shouted back.”

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