China sentenced 44 Taiwanese to prison on Thursday for telecom fraud following their extradition from Kenya, in a move likely to further sour cross-strait ties.
The Taiwanese were among a group sentenced to between 21 months and 15 years in prison and slapped with fines, the Beijing Second Intermediate People's Court said on its official account on China's Twitter-like Weibo.
The question of how to deal with Taiwanese arrested abroad has become a sensitive diplomatic issue, with Taipei protesting that suspects should be returned to the self-ruled island, rather than the mainland.
China and Taiwan split after a civil war in 1949 and the island sees itself as a sovereign nation, but Beijing considers it a breakaway province that is part of its territory — a stance that most countries around the world recognise.
Ties between Beijing and Taipei have worsened since President Tsai Ing-wen took office last year over her refusal to acknowledge the island as part of "one China".
Taipei has in the past accused Beijing of "abducting" Taiwanese suspected of committing fraud abroad and taking them to China.
Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng expressed "deep regret and dissatisfaction" over the sentencing.
"We insist that Taiwanese suspects involved in cross-border telecom fraud cases should return to Taiwan to face investigation, trial and serve the sentence according to the law," he said at a regular press briefing Thursday.
"We urge the Chinese side to communicate and negotiate with us for the interests of the people to seek resolutions in terms of joint crime-fighting to eradicate fraud groups."
The council has stated that it has intelligence on "the key suspect behind the crime" and called on China to cooperate with Taiwan security authorities "as soon as possible".
The telecom case is the latest to involve the international deportation of Taiwanese suspects, and analysts see the cases as part of Beijing's bid to pile pressure on Tsai.
A Spanish court said last week it had also decided to allow the extradition of Taiwanese fraud suspects to China despite protests by Taipei, which hoped to take back its citizens.
Since last April, 288 Taiwanese fraud suspects deported abroad have been held in China, the Taiwanese government said.
According to Chiu, no relatives of Taiwanese suspects have been allowed to visit them in the mainland since Tsai's inauguration last year, despite visitation requests from 105 individuals.
Eleven relatives were permitted to visit detainees last April.