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30 Apr 2021

Safeguard Defenders calls on Belgian parliament to revoke extradition treaty with China

In view of the public hearings on the human rights situation in China and in Xinjiang in particular at the Committee for Foreign Affairs of the Belgian Chamber on May 4th, Safeguard Defenders submitted a briefing to all Permanent Members of the Committee regarding the numerous severe human rights issues under the Bilateral Extradition Treaty between the People’s Republic (PRC) and Belgium, which entered into force on 16 December 2020.

As oppression within the PRC is rampant and Beijing increasingly seeks to impose the extra-territorial reach of its national security provisions – which effectively seek to silence any and all criticism -, Belgium has an opportunity and duty to honour its obligations under international human rights law and the European Convention on Human Rights, should take immediate action to revoke its extradition agreement with China and lead calls within the European Council to revoke outstanding Extradition Treaties with the PRC across the EU.

In particular, Safeguard Defenders raises concerns with regard to the following areas of abuse:

  1.  Framing China’s use of Extraditions: Exporting the Chilling Effect;
  2. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;
  3. Right to a Fair trial;
  4. Unkept Diplomatic Assurances.

Safeguard Defenders’ briefing comes at the same time as the Open Letter by five Members of the European Parliament to the ten EU Member States who have an outstanding Extradition Agreement with the PRC, and highlights how the intimidation and targeting through the threat of extradition of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) opponents and alleged criminals around the world has a direct impact on the democratic freedoms of expression, assembly, and association around the world.

The extraterritorial effect of the PRC’s internal national security policies poses a direct risk on the freedom of movement and speech within the European Union. This is particularly relevant in Brussels, home to many of the European Institutions. As official sources within the Belgian Ministry of Justice have confirmed: while every extradition request will be scrutinized through a judicial and political process, restrictions on the freedom of movement may be imposed on those facing the request, effectively hindering their access to European law- and policy-makers.

That such restrictions are not just a theoretical risk is demonstrated by the case of Li Zhuihui – a Falung Gong adherent and Swedish citizen since 2016 - who was detained at Warsaw’s Chopin Airport, en route from Sweden to Bulgaria, on 7 March 2019, on the basis of a red notice issued by China for undocumented allegations of economic crimes. Whereas the outcome of said extradition process has just recently concluded in his favour, his almost two-year detention is a red warning sign for those facing possible persecution from China in Europe. So is the case of the Spanish 2019 deportation of 94 Taiwanese individuals accused of telecommunications fraud to Beijing rather than Taiwan, creating a very realistic fear for Hong Kong activists to be deported directly to mainland China.

As such, the current Bilateral Agreement between the PRC and Belgium risks creating a dangerous spill-over effect of the silencing and censorship efforts of the CCP, similar to what we have already witnessed in Hong Kong or on non-governmental entities operating within the PRC. This does not only concern exiled opponents of the regime and diaspora communities – who already face Chinese Government activities aimed at their intimidation and repression -, but outspoken European citizens as well as the warning from Danish Intelligence Services to four Danish citizens, among whom Members of Parliament Uffe Elbaek and Katarina Ammitzboll, to avoid travel to EU Member States with outstanding Extradition Agreements with the PRC.

Furthermore, the Bilateral Extradition Treaty lends legitimacy to a judicial system which does not respect any of the due process guarantees under International Conventions, in particular the European Convention on Human Rights.

As consistent official conviction rates of 99,96% overwhelmingly demonstrate and international reports by UN bodies testify, the criminal justice system in China systematically denies any and all fair trial standards – from the presumption of innocence to the timely access to a lawyer -, makes frequent use of torture to obtain confessions, and still applies the death penalty.

China’s demands that its political opponents and alleged criminal targets alike face extradition to an abusive legal system in China weakens the rule of law and international accountability mechanisms in Western democracies who comply with China’s extradition regime.

Moreover, these issues in the judicial system, in full violation of the international legal principle of non-refoulement, are but the tip of the iceberg, as a slew of non-judicial mechanisms – from the camps in Xinjiang to the persecution under the National Security Commission – do not even provide for any or all trial and cannot be subjected to any appeal or complaint mechanisms.

Assurances provided to third States in the framework of extradition agreements are oftentimes non-enforceable and limited access provisions do not allow for adequate monitoring, as demonstrated all too well with the heavy restrictions put on access to Canadian hostages Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, despite the bilateral consular agreement between Canada and the PRC.

It appears therefore evident that, following the suspension of Extradition Treaties with Hong Kong in many European Member States, the bilateral agreements with China should face the same – if not additional – scrutiny and be revoked.