If China managed to assuage any fears by “releasing” three of five apparently abducted Hong Kong booksellers in late March, it has now sparked them again by its evidently heavy-handed involvement in Kenya’s astonishing deportation of 45 Taiwanese nationals to mainland China in early April.
Since January, China’s government sought the extradition from Kenya of some 70 “Chinese” – mainland Chinese and Taiwan nationals – wanted for telecommunications fraud. But soon after Kenyan courts acquitted the suspects, the Taiwanese (and perhaps the mainlanders) were put on planes and sent to China. Images of the hooded and shackled Taiwanese in transit, as well as the subsequent broadcast of some of their “confessions,” offer little reassurance that they will enjoy any semblance of a fair trial.
In the ensuing diplomatic storm about cross-strait relations, China’s influence in Africa, and its jurisdiction over the Taiwan nationals, two critical legal issues have gotten lost. The first: that there was a Kenyan court order blocking the deportation of the Taiwanese from the country. Why Kenyan officials ignored that order remains unclear.
The second: that the Taiwanese were provided no opportunity to contest their deportations. The absence of an extradition treaty between Kenya and China is not in itself a bar to extraditions. However, governments have an obligation under international human rights law not to deport individuals without first giving them an opportunity to contest their removal before a competent authority. The Taiwanese might have raised legal objections to their extradition to China or expressed fears about being tortured or otherwise ill-treated there. But they were provided no such opportunity.
China’s involvement in extra-legal deportations is on the upswing. The broader concern here is that Chinese officials leaned on Kenyan authorities to carry out Beijing’s will. Where China will strike next is anyone’s guess.
Countries under pressure from Beijing to send criminal suspects to China need to ensure not only that their laws are enforced, but also that the rights of those facing extradition are fully respected. Unless Beijing faces resistance to these maneuvers there’s little reason to believe they will stop.