In a huge blow to the Chinese government, seven judges sitting at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg unanimously ruled that the extradition of Hung Tao Liu from Poland to China would violate Article 3 (right to not be subject to inhumane or degrading treatment) and Article 6 (right to fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Liu is a Taiwanese national accused of being part of a major online fraud group operating out of Spain. The group of nearly 260 people consisted primarily of Taiwanese citizens. A joint Spanish-Chinese policing operation saw the group arrested in 2016-2017.

The human rights NGO, Safeguard Defenders, has published a report on this case. In the report Barrister Ben Keith, explained that:

"The judgement in Liu is unusual from the ECtHR. It is the first case to reach the Strasbourg court in relation to extradition in China. Many other cases have not got permission, for instance the 94 individuals extradited from Spain."

In its judgment handed down on 6 October 2022, the Strasbourg Court found that, if extradited to China, Liu would be at risk of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and that he would be denied a fair trial.

This will be a major setback for the Chinese government which in recent years has poured resources into pursuing dissidents across the globe.  Under the Government led anti-corruption campaign known as “Operation Sky Net” Chinese authorities claim to have coordinated international assistance to arrest and extradite 10,000 ‘fugitives’ to face criminal corruption charges in China.

As well as increasing pressure on European countries that have an extradition treaty with China to suspend those treaties, the Strasbourg ruling will make extradition from many other countries substantially more difficult. Reporting on Liu’s case, Safeguard Defenders conclude that:

"The Court issued a decision which is not the result of specific circumstances connected to the person of the extraditee, the crime allegedly committed, or other outside elements. According to the Court, everyone will face a real risk of ill-treatment if extradited to China."

Interpol lawyers are likely to rely on this ruling in requests to remove Red Notices issued by China. Under its constitution, Interpol must operate 'in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights':

Article 2

Its aims are:

  1. To ensure and promote the widest possible mutual assistance between all criminal police authorities within the limits of the laws existing in the different countries and in the spirit of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”;
  2. To establish and develop all institutions likely to contribute effectively to the prevention and suppression of ordinary law crimes

In 2021 the Commission for the Control of Interpol Files, the internal body responsible for processing deletion requests, received 659 applications by individuals seeking to have Red Notices and Diffusions lodged against them removed from the global database. Of these, 296 notices were deleted as they did not comply with Interpol's rules and 239 notices were deleted after consideration of the legal issues raised by the applicants and of the answers provided by the sources of the data challenge.

It is cases such as Liu's that Interpol lawyers rely on to challenge improper Red Notices or those which would pose serious human rights breaches if acted upon from countries including, but by no means limited to, China.

The full Safeguard Defender’s article, which was published on 3 November 2022, can be read here.