Torture fear halts NZ extradition to China

Top News | AGENCIES 12 Jun 2019

A New Zealand court has stopped a murder suspect from being extradited to China as it could not send him to a country where torture is "widespread."

The Court of Appeal quashed a ministerial decision yesterday to extradite Kim Kyung Yup, saying to do so when there was a risk he would be tortured breached New Zealand's international obligations.

Kim, a South Korean who has lived in New Zealand for 30 years, is accused of murdering 20-year-old Chen Peiyun when visiting Shanghai in 2009. She was strangled.

Kim was arrested in New Zealand in 2011 and Beijing asked for his extradition with assurances he would not face the death penalty if convicted.

After a process that included two ministerial reviews, New Zealand in 2015 decided to extradite him - the first time it had agreed to someone being sent for trial in a Chinese court.

But yesterday's ruling halted that process and ordered a third review while raising questions about China's legal system.

The three-judge appeal panel conceded "a cultural shift away from torture in China is under way" but gave little weight to assurances Kim would receive a fair trial.

"Torture remains widespread and confessions obtained through torture are regularly admitted in evidence," the judgment read. "It logically follows there are inadequate systems in [China] to prevent torture."

Other issues identified by the judges included political influence on the justice system and harassment of defense lawyers.

Beijing responded with a Foreign Ministry spokesman calling for New Zealand to "extradite the suspect as soon as possible" while saying the Chinese system "effectively protects the legitimate rights and interests of criminal suspects."

Meanwhile, the United States said it was concerned about the fugitive law amendment in Hong Kong, warning that could jeopardize a special arrangement.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said "the continued erosion of the one country, two systems framework puts at risk Hong Kong's long-established special status in international affairs."

That was a reference to the US-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, which establishes a legal framework by which Washington accords Hong Kong special treatment for purposes of US domestic law.

A 1992 US law recognizes the SAR's special status and allows Washington to engage with it as a non-sovereign entity distinct from China in matters of trade and economics. Areas of special treatment include visas, law enforcement - including extraditions - and investment.

"The US expresses its grave concern about the Hong Kong government's proposed amendments to its fugitive offenders ordinance," Ortagus added.

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