Nov 8, 2022 - World

Europe takes a stand on extradition to China

Illustration of a person standing behind a gavel and peering around the corner as if taking shelter.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The European Court of Human Rights blocked a man's extradition to China last month in a landmark case that could make any future extraditions from Europe to China extremely unlikely, rights activists and lawyers say.

Why it matters: The ruling will stymie the Chinese Communist Party's major push in recent years to track down and extradite Chinese nationals wanted for economic or political crimes.

  • The unanimous ruling applies to the 46 member states of the Council of Europe, which are legally bound to implement it.

Details: A Taiwanese man in Poland was slated to be sent back to China on fraud charges, but the court blocked his removal from Poland.

  • In its ruling, the court stated "torture and other forms of ill-treatment were credibly and consistently reported to be used in Chinese detention facilities and penitentiaries," pointing to "a general situation of violence."
  • European law prohibits the extradition of individuals to countries where they may face torture or ill-treatment. By ruling that such conditions exist in China, the court decision applies to all pending and future extradition requests across Europe, Spain-based rights advocacy nonprofit Safeguard Defenders wrote in a memo about the ruling.

Of note: The decision applies to any person in Europe that Beijing seeks for extradition regardless of nationality.

  • The Chinese government has successfully extradited hundreds of Taiwanese nationals from countries that have diplomatic relations with Beijing instead of Taipei — but the court ruling did not address this policy specifically or the man's Taiwanese nationality.

What they're saying: "It's momentous," Laura Harth, campaign director at Safeguard Defenders, told Axios. The ruling "basically constitutes a blanket ban on extraditions to China," she said. "This is what human rights advocates like us were hoping for."

  • "This ruling is actually very simple," Marcin Gorski, a legal scholar who represented the defendant in Poland, told the Washington Post.
  • "If you are suspected of applying torture and if you close your country to international scrutiny, this is the outcome, because we do not extradite people from Europe unless we are pretty much sure that they wouldn’t be killed or tortured.”

State of play: Several European countries have extradition treaties with China, including Belgium, Italy and France. And several countries, including Spain, France and Italy, have extradited people back to China at the request of Chinese police.

  • Some Hong Kong activists and other dissidents say they have avoided travel to European countries that have extradition treaties with China or Hong Kong on the books, due to fears they could be detained by authorities and sent to China.
  • The court ruling was "long overdue," Reinhard Bütikofer, a member of Germany's Bundestag who has been sanctioned by China, told Axios. "It creates new legal guidance for all similar cases in Europe in the future."
  • National courts are expected to bring their future rulings in line with the European Court of Human Rights, though the speed with which that happens could affect pending extradition cases and extraditions that have already been approved but not yet carried out.

Background: The CCP launched what it called Operation Fox Hunt in 2014 as an international extension of a domestic anti-corruption campaign, though rights groups say Chinese authorities also target dissidents and activists under the guise of fighting economic crimes.

  • Chinese authorities have employed both overt and covert measures to bring back their targets from abroad, including extradition requests, extrajudicial renditions, unregistered police stations abroad, and illegally deploying Chinese agents abroad to coerce people to return.
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