European court ruling makes extraditions to China more difficult



The alleged Taiwanese leader of a major telecommunications fraud syndicate was set to be extradited from Poland to China last month – a coup for Beijing’s international policing operations and extensive efforts to hunt down the fugitives.

Hung Tao Liu’s surrender would have been a breakthrough in an investigation that three years ago saw nearly 100 Taiwanese suspects arrested in Spain, Fly in Beijing, then escorted from the plane between uniformed Chinese officers. Instead, his case is likely become a major setback and embarrassing failure for the Chinese authorities.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in October that Liu should not be handed over to Chinese authorities because they had failed to provide sufficient guarantees that he would not be ill-treated upon arrival. This judgement will make extraditions from the mainland to China much more difficult, if not nearly impossible, according to lawyers, human rights activists and jurists. The Madrid-based non-governmental organization Safeguard Defenders called him a “capital decision” to protect human rights in Europe.

decision undermines a decade-long effort by Beijing to normalize the repatriation of suspects wanted under Chinese law. But it also signals growing distrust of Chinese security operations on the mainland. Multiple governments have launched investigations in recent weeks after Chinese police ‘petrol stations’ were discovered in dozens of cities from Dublin to Milan, reigniting debates over whether China and Europe can get together. hear about basic law enforcement protocols.

The court reflects “a changing view in Europe in terms of the rule of law and the protection of rights in China’s judicial and penal system”, said analyst Katja Drinhausen of the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin.

This comes at a time when the European Union rethink its relationship with China. In recent years, ties have frayed on human rights issues, particularly in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine – which China has yet to condemn – has been a stark reminder of the risks of engaging authoritarian regimes.

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Miriam Lexmann, a member of the European Parliament from Slovakia, said Europe needed to learn from the invasion and reassess how it works with China, including on legal issues. “We need to rethink extradition treaties and any kind of cooperation with China,” said Lexmann, whom China sanctioned last year in retaliation for EU restrictions imposed on Chinese officials following the mass incarceration. in Xinjiang.

The court’s unanimous decision on Liu’s treatment drew heavily on research by human rights groups and notes China’s refusal to allow visits by representatives of international organizations who could, for example, inspect detention centers . This opacity is cited as one of the main reasons why the tribunal cannot take China’s informal safeguards at face value.

The defendant’s citizenship was irrelevant to the decision because it does not touch on sovereignty issues, according to Yu-Jie Chen, an assistant research professor at the Academia Sinica Institute of Jurisprudence in Taiwan. “It’s just to discuss whether this Taiwanese, as a person like everyone else, can be extradited to China,” she said.

Unless appealed, the decision will apply to any extradition requested by China from a European country. Lawyers say it is unlikely to be overturned. Liu, who is in his early 40s, is still being held in Poland.

“This decision is actually very simple,” said Marcin Górski, a lawyer at the University of Łódź in Poland, who represented Liu. “If you are suspected of applying torture and if you close your country to international scrutiny, that is the result, because we do not extradite people from Europe unless we are fairly sure that they will not be killed or tortured.”

Lawyers involved in the ongoing extradition hearings expect the judgment to undermine ongoing and future proceedings, in part because the court addressed concerns about mistreatment in custody in China in such broad terms.

Enrico Di Fiorino, an Italian lawyer who has worked on extradition cases, also said the decision was important because the suspect is not political or part of a religious group. “What is being asked to change is – ultimately – China’s legal and judicial system, to avoid the use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment in its detention centers and penitentiaries. “, did he declare.

China’s aggressive efforts to bring back fugitives are getting more brazen

Recently launched investigations into the existence of these Chinese police “gas stations” – believed to operate in at least 50 locations around the world, according to a recent report by Safeguard Defenders — focus on a distinct legal concern. However, the two problems highlight the challenges that China’s transnational policing tactics pose to democratic countries.

“China is acting as if it can implement its own sovereignty on our soils,” said Reinhard Bütikofer, a member of the European Parliament from Germany, also sanctioned by Beijing.. “It really speaks to the need to step up European self-defense against the Chinese export of oppression.”

Bütikofer’s calls for EU member states to suspend existing extradition treaties with China have largely gone unheeded, but he believes that the harsh political repression of leader Xi Jinping and his recently extended authority at the Chinese Communist Party Congress could “resurrect this conversation”.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Wednesday denied allegations that China is running illegal police stations, saying the service centers were run by volunteers from the overseas Chinese community. to carry out processes such as the renewal of driving licenses. “They are not Chinese police. There is no need to make people nervous about it,” he told a regular press briefing in Beijing.

Neither China’s Ministry of Public Security nor its National Supervisory Commission responded to requests for comment.

A high-profile global anti-corruption campaign called Sky Net has been the driving force behind China’s international policing efforts. The operation brings together law enforcement, anti-corruption gendarmes, diplomats and judicial services to track down fugitives. Since 2017, Sky Net has been responsible for sending more than 7,000 people back to China for trial, the party’s anti-corruption watchdog said last month.

Besides extradition treaties and Interpol Red Notices, Chinese authorities also rely on informal measures to “persuade” suspects to return to China. Fox Hunt, a smaller campaign, focuses primarily on people wanted for economic crimes.

At an October 24 press conference in Washington to announce charges against Chinese intelligence officers and officials in three separate cases, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said the individuals involved had “harassed mercilessly a naturalized American citizen in an attempt to force him to return to China against his will” in a Fox Hunt investigation.

The backlash against Chinese methods and the Liu judgment should make extraditions to China more difficult, but it is unclear to what extent the separate governments will respect the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, noted Eva Pils, an expert in Chinese law at King’s College London.

There are also questions about whether China will respond to the blocking of official channels by doubling down on off-the-books methods, Pils said, “where Chinese state agents are carrying out what they consider to be some kind of law enforcement activity, but without authorization.

Ellen Nakashima in Washington and Pei-Lin Wu in Taipei contributed to this report.


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