In early October, a news item went unnoticed by most of the media, even though the event is of importance for human rights compliance and Europe’s relationship with China.

On October 6, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in an unanimous ruling, prevented the extradition of a Taiwanese national requested by the Chinese regime, citing that the defendant would expose himself significantly to the risk of ill-treatment and torture. A Polish court had originally approved the extradition.

The decision set an important precedent and could serve as an example for similar cases, becoming a legal tool to stop extraditions demanded by the CCP.

Taiwan-born Liu Hongtao, 42, was accused of being part of a group that conducted online fraud. Between 2016 and 2017, following a joint Spanish-Chinese police operation, the group of 260 people, mostly Taiwanese, was captured. Interpol issued an arrest warrant for Liu. He was arrested in Poland on August 6, 2017, and placed in prison at the Bialoleka detention center in Warsaw.

Spanish courts, ignoring the European Convention on Human Rights and Taiwan’s protests, approved the extradition to China of 208 people. Their lawyers tried to take the case to the ECHR, but were rejected, so the defendants were transferred. Once in China, contact with many of them was lost, and their whereabouts and conditions are unknown.

However, Liu’s case did make it to the ECHR, the first time this court has reviewed an extradition case to China.

Liu’s extradition request does not fall under religious, ethnic, or political persecution, but rather alleges online fraud, so it is easily approved. However, the court’s unanimous decision to reject the CCP’s requests on the grounds of significant risk of torture and ill-treatment, set out in Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, would serve to dismiss any kind of extradition request, as the most basic rights are not guaranteed. A perfect example of the degree of degradation in the Chinese judicial and penitentiary system.

The case also exposed the failings of the Polish court, which did not take more seriously the demand for guarantees for the fulfillment of the extradited person’s rights, relying on the word of a regime known for its human rights violations.

Ben Keith, a lawyer specializing in extradition matters, explained, “The comment about assurances is troubling. Assurances are used in extradition cases and some immigration cases as a remedy for human rights problems. But a guarantee must be a solemn diplomatic promise, so if it is breached some adverse comment can be made. In my experience, there is no remedy for breach of a guarantee other than an apology. In fact, any assurance given by China on extradition should be viewed with suspicion, if not disbelief. Torture is so widespread and so systematic that any assurance is likely to be futile.”

The ECHR, in addition to denying Liu’s extradition and ordering his release, faulted the Polish authorities for violating Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, on arbitrary detention by keeping the Taiwanese citizen in custody for more than 5 years, and instructed Poland to pay damages.

China signed extradition treaties with most European countries. Spain turned out to be one of the most active in approving them. Any country can extradite a criminal upon request, there is no need for a bilateral treaty, the treaties would only serve to formalize and expedite the process.  

With Liu’s case as a precedent, any extradition request by the Chinese regime would be annulled if taken to the ECHR, so the treaties would lose practical effect, and if approved, would clearly be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Legal proceedings to reject extradition requests from China are currently underway in Portugal, Cyprus, and Italy.

Legal or illegal means, anything goes

The case of Italy is a good example of how the regime uses both legal means and extortion to obtain extraditions. 

A former senior manager of a Chinese company was arrested following an Interpol Red Notice requested by China. During his trial, it came top light how a relative of the defendant was illegally arrested and detained for six months to force the former executive to return to China.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said that extraditions are “cumbersome,” so it began an operation to “persuade” the alleged fugitives to return to China on their own. Extortion methods of all kinds were used, such as kidnapping, harassment, threats against children, spouses, and relatives and friends.

China claims that 230,000 people returned this way between April 2021 and July 2022. 

The operation is run from a network of illegal Chinese police stations deployed in different countries. Fifty-four of these “overseas police service stations,” as the Chinese regime calls them, have so far been identified in 30 different countries on five continents.

Several European countries have begun to react against the installation of these illegal police stations, as in the case of Ireland, which on October 27 confirmed its demand to the Chinese regime to close one of them in Dublin. An Irish government spokesman stated, “The Department noted that the actions of all foreign states on Irish territory must comply with international law and the requirements of domestic law.” The statement goes on, “On this basis, the department informed the embassy that the office in Capel Street should close and cease operations.”

According to official reports, following the request, China closed the facility.

The obsession with exercising control over Chinese citizens is not only limited to the country’s inhabitants. These illegal police stations are a testament to the fact that no matter how far away they are, Chinese people will remain hostage to the CCP. 

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