09 Jul 2019

Swedish Supreme Court rules against extradition to China

In a landmark case, Sweden’s Supreme Court on July 9 ruled against the extradition of one of China’s most sought after corruption suspects.

Qiao Jianjun, a Chinese Communist Party member and mid-level state official, is being pursued by Beijing under its Operation Fox Hunt program for returning fugitives from overseas. Qiao is suspected of embezzling funds back home.

Sweden held Qiao in detention for nearly a year, until the Supreme Court held a hearing on 18 June following which Qiao was freed, pending a decision.

We have translated and posted excerpts of the decision below. The full (18 page) decision (in Swedish only) is available here: 2019-07-09 Ö 2479-19 Beslut.

In short, it finds

"In a holding delivered to the Swedish Government, the Supreme Court finds that there are impediments to the extradition of a person to China under the Extradition Act. Extradition would also be contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights."

An English language statement on the verdict can be found on the court's website here.


Chinese ambassador meeting with cabinet secretary Annika Söder to convince the government to support the extradition

The court found the extradition to be in violation of Swedish legal commitments under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), concerning the issue of use of torture, and the issue of lack of a fair trial, but also that it is in violation of the Swedish law on extraditions (1957).

"...the Supreme Court has found that there is a real risk that the person will be subjected to persecution for political reasons in China. This constitutes a general impediment to extradition under section 7 of the Swedish Extradition Act."

The same day as the court hearing (June 18), the Swedish government released a new country report on China [Download report here (Swedish language only)], and was damming in its assessment, especially concerning the right to a fair trial, but also on torture, extra-legal detentions and the NSC. With this report out, it will be difficult for the government to go against the analysis of the Supreme Court.

The key human rights issues in this case were the right not to be tortured and the right to a fair trial, as well as whether he could be given the death penalty.

"The Supreme Court has also found that there is a real risk that the person be sentenced to death, be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Supreme Court also found that there is a risk that he may face a trial that significantly deviates from the demands of a fair trial as laid down in the European Convention for Human Rights. The Supreme Court has also assessed the weight that might be attributed to any assurances from China that the person, if extradited, will not be subjected to treatment in violation of the European Convention. The Supreme Court finds that such assurances cannot be given such weight that extradition can be granted. In this regard it has been taken into account that it would be very difficult to verify that assurances of this kind are complied with."

Furthermore, Justice Petter Asp says:

"In short, the Supreme Court makes the assessment that there is a risk that he will be subjected to persecution because of his political activity and that he will be subjected to treatment in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Under these conditions, extradition cannot take place."

Sweden’s decision whether or not to extradite Qiao has far-ranging consequences in how other jurisdictions will decide on future extraditions to China. Indeed, there are a number of imminent cases – one in France and several on the docket in Spain, as well as in the Czech Republic.


The hearing in the Swedish Supreme Court


The hearing at the Supreme Court was a lengthy one, as Swedish, Chinese and English translations were needed. Two of the three expert witnesses were flown in from London, UK.

  • Eva Pils, Professor of Law at London’s Kings College spoke about the Chinese judicial system, recent legal reforms and the issue of fair trials in China.
  • Peter Humphrey, a former journalist and corporate investigator in China, who spend almost two years in jail in Shanghai, gave testimony on detention centre and prison facilities, and the legal system.
  • Safeguard Defenders Peter Dahlin told the court about China’s use of enforced disappearances: RSDL (Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location) and the new Liuzhi system under the NSC. He also spoke about torture, forced TV confessions before trial, and role of the coerced confessions during the investigation phase in China.
  • Qiao’s defense attorney was Henrik Olsson Lilja, and the state’s prosecution was lead prosecutor Leif Görts of the National Unit against Corruption.


Video of fugitive Qiao Jianjun being led away from Supreme Court for lunch break during day of hearing. Copyright Safeguard Defenders.

The prosecutor argued that Qiao’s extradition was legal under Swedish extradition law on some but not all of the points in the case against Qiao, and that China agreed to strike the points of prosecution that were not considered in line with Swedish extradition law.  Görts also argued that if China gave assurances, Qiao could be extradited without contravening the ECHR.

The prosecution called no witnesses, and relied almost solely on information given by the Chinese embassy in Sweden and the CCDI. It also did not address a single question to the three expert witnesses.

Despite noting the existence of the NSC and Liuzhi in their material turned over to the court, they clearly demonstrated a lack of understanding on how they worked. They were also woefully unprepared concerning how assurances by China could be secured and how they could be overseen.

They failed to note that under Liuzhi, Qiao would be kept in prolonged solitary confinement, something that under certain conditions is deemed by the UN’s top human rights body to constitute torture.

In their closing arguments, which followed directly after Safeguard Defenders’ Peter Dahlin’s testimony, they ignored all evidence presented by the expert witnesses and the defense team.


Detailed analysis of the extradition verdict will be posted soon, with select sections translated into English.



Latest developments: Qiao back in detention, China report


Just a few days after he was freed, Qiao was detained again 23 June, following an extradition request filed by the US government on money laundering charges in California in 2015.

On the same day as the Supreme Court hearing, Sweden’s Foreign Ministry issued 18 new country reports, one of which was on China. That report was damming in its assessment. It drew special attention to Beijing's politicized legal system that is under total CCP control. It also noted recent statements that suggested even tighter control of the judiciary. The practice of pre-trial televised confessions was also mentioned.

The case is similar to one recently heard by an appeal court in New Zealand.

On 11 June, that court ruled New Zealand could not sign an extradition treaty with China because there was no protection against use of torture and coerced confessions, there was no guarantee of a fair trial, and there was no assurances that China could give that could ensure the extradited individual would receive such protections. Read the full verdict here.


New cases in France, Spain and Czech Republic


A Chinese fugitive in France’s New Caledonia is currently fighting possible extradition to China with a hearing set for 24 July. It’s expected that his case will be taken to France’s equivalent of the Supreme Court and Sweden’s decision will likely have an influence over the eventual decision.

The man is not a Party member or state worker, but is accused of economic crimes. The same issues of torture, coercion and the right to a fair trial are also pertinent to this case.

France and China have had an extradition agreement since 2015, but it has never been tested in the high courts. A case concerning the extradition of Taiwanese citizens is ongoing in Spain, another EU country that has an extradition agreement with China. There is another case of possible extradition to China in the Czech Republic of a Taiwanese citizen.


What is Operation Fox Hunt?


In recent years, China has been pushing for more international police cooperation and encouraging countries to allow extraditions for general suspects and in particular for Party members and other officials wanted on corruption charges and other economic crimes.

China regularly boasts about its Operation Fox Hunt (officially called Sky Net, and re-launched every year) at home and is one of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature anti-corruption policies. It targets Chinese fugitives overseas suspected of corruption.

Most of the extraditions have been from South East Asia but several have also occurred from North America, Australia and Europe, despite resistance from some quarters to sending suspects back to China.

Every year, people are repatriated ‘voluntarily’ after CCDI teams covertly hunt down the “foxes” to convince them to return. Anecdotal evidence indicates their cooperation usually happens because of threats against family members still living in China. In some of the more political cases, individuals have been kidnapped and forced to return.

Less than half of those nabbed by Operation Fox Hunt (now numbering in the thousands) have been through extraditions. Global Times, the State-owned newspaper, published an article claiming some 6000 fugitives had been brought back to China since Xi Jinping came to power.