With attention focused on a possible law in Hong Kong allowing extradition to the People’s Republic of China, Beijing is also attempting to expand its reach on the other side of the world. In faraway Sweden, the Supreme Court is set to hear a case on June 18 that could have repercussions not only for Sweden but for the European Union and any other state bound by the European Convention of Human Rights.

What is at the heart of the matter? Unlike earlier extraditions sought by China, this is the first known case to reach a European Supreme Court since China’s massive judicial reorganisation in 2018 – the pinnacle of which was the establishment of the National Supervision Commission (NSC).

china chinese eu europe european flag
File photo: EU.

Swedish authorities are holding a man named Qiao Jianjun, aka Feng Li. His sought extradition is part of China’s massive SkyNet operation, a signature policy of President Xi Jinping’s. When a top 100 most wanted list was published earlier, Qiao was ranked number three.

Since then Qiao, accused of being a corrupt provincial leader, has been hounded across several continents by a team from the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).

The important new feature of this case is that Qiao will not be handed over to the Chinese police as with most other extradition cases, but to a secretive organisation outside the judicial system – the NSC. In the hands of the NSC Qiao will almost certainly be disappeared into the new Liuzhi system under which he will be kept at a secret location, in solitary confinement, with no right to access a lawyer.

In other words, China’s extradition request is not for Qiao to be put into China’s judicial system – which is flawed enough as it is – but to disappear outside the system.

In Sweden, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is law. It establishes the kind of rights and protections that people across Europe, and in Hong Kong for that matter, take for granted every day, such as the absence of torture and the right to a fair trial.

European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights. Photo: Wikicommons.

Whether Qiao is guilty or not, one thing is clear – upon return to China he will be forced to confess, maybe even on TV, he will be tortured, and he will disappear for a long time before he is handed over to a prosecutor and has legal proceedings initiated against him.

With so much at stake, I myself, as well as the UK’s Peter Humphrey and others, have agreed to appear as expert witnesses to explain to the court what Qiao is about to face, and more importantly, to urge Europe to pay attention to the consequences of this massive change to China’s legal system after the establishment of the NSC and to get European courts to adjust to this new reality.

What happens in Stockholm will be watched closely by diplomats from around the world, many of whom are well aware that the consequences for extraditions caused by the establishment of the NSC will soon be their own concern.

The CCP has long had its own internal system for dealing with Party members who are suspected of corruption or not towing the Party line. In 2017, the CCDI investigated some 500,000 people and virtually all were found guilty. All of them confessed. You always do in China.

In 2018, still largely unknown in the West, China undertook a massive reorganization of its judicial system. The establishment of the NSC expanded the use of its earlier party-only internal investigations body, but it remains an organ outside the judicial system.

The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012. Photo: WikiMedia.

Previously restricted to overseeing Party members, its reach now extends to all state workers, managers in schools and hospitals, contractors who build public infrastructure, or for that matter any foreign business person accused of offering a bribe.

This year, for the first time, we could see 1 million or more such ‘investigations’ launched, and pretty much all of them will end with a guilty “verdict”. Very few cases ever get handed over to the prosecutor for actual criminal proceedings.

During this process, people may be placed into Liuzhi – a detention system that disappears the detainee into solitary confinement, for up to six months. Outside the legal system, there is no real way to appeal the decision, and no police or prosecutor is involved. Victims are kept in custom-built facilities that are not part of the judicial system. The only name one can have for them, really, is secret prisons.

One provincial head of the system told Chinese state media that “suspects averaged 42.5 days in detention before being transferred into the criminal justice system”. Some five weeks after the system came into effect in March 2018 the first known murder inside Liuzhi was exposed.

Chen Yong, a driver, was disappeared into the system to give evidence on his former boss, an official. Chen was tortured to death. His battered and bruised body was seen by both his wife and mother. No investigation ever followed.

China police
Photo: Wikicommons.

Chinese scholar Li Yongzhong earlier estimated that between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of those investigated ended up inside this system for disappearances. That could mean that China is set to disappear some 100,000 people this year, possibly amounting to a crime against humanity.

One investigator in the system told Human Rights Watch: “In the cases I’ve handled, generally they collapse after persevering for three to five days, and they’d answer everything you ask, they’d be very cooperative. Those who manage more than a week are [already] tough guys.”

A doctor who works within the system said: “Their requirement for us doctors was to keep them safe. That meant, don’t let them die. A dead person would create big problems. Someone who is only injured doesn’t matter.”

Qiao has already been convicted, of course. He was the centrepiece in a big budget “documentary” aired on China’s state TV broadcaster, and more TV and state news media broadcasts have followed since. The trial itself, which will come much later, is more a formality than anything else. With his conviction decided and made public, the CCP simply needs him to confess, to complete the picture.

court china
A court in China. File Photo: Xinhua.

The lack of access to a fair trial, the fact that he has already been convicted on state TV, the almost certain prospect of torture –are all well documented, and clearly violate core aspects of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The fact that he, like many others, is being sought for extradition to a special organ outside the Chinese judicial system, to be disappeared into an unknown location for months on end, until he has confessed, should make it clear to the Swedish Supreme Court that it should not allow the extradition.

Kong Tsung-gan‘s new collection of essays – narrative, journalistic, documentary, analytical, polemical, and philosophical – trace the fast-paced, often bewildering developments in Hong Kong since the 2014 Umbrella Movement. As Long As There Is Resistance, There Is Hope is available exclusively through HKFP with a min. HK$200 donation. Thanks to the kindness of the author, 100 per cent of your payment will go to HKFP’s critical 2019 #PressForFreedom Funding Drive.

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Peter Dahlin was co-founder of now-defunct Chinese NGO 'China Action' (2009-2016) and is the director of Safeguard Defenders, which assist lawyers, independent media, and civil society groups across east- and southeast Asia in protecting human rights and promoting the rule of law.