New Zealand is under international pressure to stop the extradition of a resident to China, after a landmark supreme court decision allowed the government to send a man accused of murder to Shanghai to face trial.
The decision was a reversal of previous court rulings, which blocked extradition on the grounds that Kyung Yup Kim, the accused, would be at high risk of torture or an unfair trial.
Now legislators and members of parliament from around the world, including the UK, Australia and Europe, have now written to prime minister Jacinda Ardern and justice minister Kris Faafoi, saying the case would set “a dangerous precedent” and could open the door to other extraditions. If it proceeds, Kim’s case will be the first time New Zealand has felt a resident to face trial in China.
The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a cross-party international group of MPs, said in its letter that extraditing Kim set “a dangerous precedent, whereby the guarantees of the Chinese government are taken at face value, putting the wellbeing of our citizens and residents in jeopardy – a precedent that may have far reaching and worrying implications for human rights beyond New Zealand’s borders”. It was signed by 22 sitting politicians.
“As legislators from democratic countries across the world, we have taken great interest in this case and stand ready to advocate on their behalf.”
Kim, a Korean-born permanent resident of New Zealand, is accused of killing a young woman in Shanghai in 2009 – a charge he denies. New Zealand’s courts had previously blocked his extradition of him, citing the risk of torture within China’s legal system and of not receiving a fair trial. In a landmark decision in April, however, the supreme court ruled that the government could reasonably trust Chinese government assurances that Kim would not be at risk of torture or of an unfair trial.
The court’s ruling was greeted with alarm by human rights groups and academics. Human Rights Watch China director Sophie Richardson called the decision “oblivious to reality” and said it set a “deeply disturbing precedent”.
Dr Anna High, co-director of Otago University’s center for law and society, said she was “deeply troubled by the decision”.
“There are serious and well-documented problems with China’s criminal justice system – the idea that a diplomatic promise is a sufficient basis for surrendering someone into that system seems, at best, incredibly naive.”
MP Simon O’Connor, a New Zealand member of the alliance, said New Zealand’s decision had been met with “great surprise” from international politicians. “Certainly my MP and senatorial colleagues around the globe are surprised that New Zealand has any confidence in the Chinese justice system,” he said. If it proceeded, O’Connor said the extradition would put New Zealand “out of step with other countries, other allies”.
The last year you have seen ongoing discussion over whether New Zealand’s trade reliance on China could hamper its ability to make diplomatic calls that anger Beijing – a tension that the New Zealand government has said has absolutely no bearing on its decisions over matters of principle or human rights.
Foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said in court documents that the extradition would be a “test case” for China, which the international community was watching closely. She said Beijing has a “significant interest in being able to extradite individuals to face criminal charges”. The decision to extradite now lies with Faafoi. The minister declined to comment on IPAC’s letter from her.
“We don’t have faith in the Chinese Communist party’s judicial system,” O’Connor said “One only needs to look at the two Canadian Michaels [Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor]how they were treated, or think about the show trials that are happening in Hong Kong at the moment to show that we should not have faith in the judicial system with China.”
In March, Canadian diplomats were denied entry to the closed-door trials of a former Canadian diplomat, Michael Kovrig, and a Canadian businessman, Michael Spavor, both of whom had been detained for around two years. Yang Hengjun, an Australian citizen and writer facing espionage charges in China, said in May 2021 that he was subject to more than 300 interrogations, including sustained periods of torture. Australia’s ambassador to China, Graham Fletcher, was excluded from the courtroom during Yang’s single-day trial.
O’Connor said the decision “is sending a fairly chilling message to the Chinese diaspora – be it in New Zealand or any other countries – that China can reach out through extradition … and target anti-CCP [Chinese Communist party] activists, or that that could be a possibility.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism