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China forced 2,500 ‘fugitives’ to return from abroad during pandemic: report | China

Chinese authorities captured more than 2,500 “fugitives” from abroad and brought them back to China during the pandemic, under a program that uses methods ranging from family intimidation to “state-sanctioned kidnapping,” according to a new report. .

The human rights group Safeguard Defenders estimates in its report released Tuesday that ongoing repatriations now total more than 10,000 since Beijing launched Operation Fox Hunt in 2014, followed by Sky Net in 2015.

During the pandemic, at least 1,421 people were forcibly returned to China in 2020 and 1,114 in 2021, according to government figures, despite international lockdowns and travel restrictions. The figures only include those arrested for alleged economic crimes or crimes related to their official duties.

In December 2021, the Central Commission for Disciplinary Control (CCDI) described the operation of the year as “fruitful”.

In 2018, Sky Net came under the control of the newly formed non-judicial body, the National Supervisory Commission. In February 2021 the commission relaunched the program, expanding it to fugitives in the fields of political and legal affairs, and civil affairs. Human rights groups believe activists and dissidents are now often targeted, including Uyghurs and Hong Kongers living abroad. In July, the Uyghur Human Rights Project documented 395 cases of Uyghurs deported, extradited or returned to China.

“Since Xi Jinping came to power, the Chinese government has intensified the crackdown on civil society,” said American human rights activist Teng Biao. “They have attacked lawyers and dissidents, bloggers, journalists, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, everything in civil society.”

Methods of forcing someone to return to China, outside of formal bilateral agreements on extradition and deportation, can range from refusing to renew a passport to misusing Interpol’s red notice system to issue international warrants, according to the report. . They also include exit bans and intimidation of family members of targets in China, and in-person threats by Chinese agents operating on foreign soil. At the extreme end of the scale are acts that Safeguard Defenders called state-sanctioned kidnappings, but which Beijing calls “irregular methods.” These sometimes involved covert operations in conjunction with host country forces, the report said, or tricking the target into going to a third country where they could be extradited.

Safeguard Defenders mapped 80 cases of attempted apprehensions, of which it said roughly half were successful. It identified targets in dozens of countries, including the US, UK and Australia.

Cases of family bullying among the Uyghur diaspora, particularly among those politically active outside of China, who are pressing for international action on human rights abuses in Xinjiang, have been widely reported.

In 2021, reports revealed that Mihray Erkin, a young Uighur woman, was believed to have died in detention in Xinjiang, in 2020. Erkin had been working in Japan as a scientific researcher until she returned to Xinjiang in 2019, allegedly after her parents were pressured to call her home. Also last year, Wang Jingyu, 19, a permanent resident of the US. wanted in china for online comments after criticizing the government on Weibo, he claimed that his parents were repeatedly harassed and detained in an attempt to get him to return.

Teng said he had encountered many cases of family bullying, including jailing family members in China to pressure targets abroad.

“Sometimes they were arbitrarily arrested or detained, followed by the secret police, interrogated, sometimes forced to make a video call with their wife or husband or children living abroad,” he told The Guardian.

“Because it is a totalitarian system, the government has the power, not the legal power, but the power that is above the law, and it can force a company or work unit to fire whoever it wants.”

Chinese authorities publicly praised the program, with a 2015 CCDI notice stating that more than 70 “task groups” had been dispatched to 90 countries and regions, with special operations “fully supported by law enforcement agencies in the abroad, Chinese embassies and consulates abroad. and police liaison officers.”

Safeguard Defenders called on world governments to end extradition treaties with China and to review and end any bilateral judicial cooperation agreements with the NSC.

“While there are legitimate reasons to engage in international judicial cooperation with Beijing, albeit cautiously, China’s violations of other nations’ judicial sovereignty and non-compliance with customs in international judicial cooperation undermine the trust necessary to initiate such cooperation. or continue existing cooperation.” He said.

Yaqiu Wang, China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said host countries should be careful about extraditions requested by China.

“They should ensure that people residing in their countries who are wanted by the Chinese government have adequate protection and investigate possible harassment and other abuses by Chinese officials or their agents against these people or their family members,” he said. .

“Authorities must also provide them with adequate opportunities to challenge extradition and not return anyone to China if they are likely to face persecution, torture or ill-treatment there.”

China has always denied that its actions are kidnapping or that it violates foreign and international laws.

“In the process of carrying out its international anti-corruption operations, China has always strictly complied with the domestic laws of target countries, international laws, and international judicial and law enforcement practices,” the CCDI said in a report by the state media in November 2020. .

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