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  • Rhys Davies

China and Interpol: A new age of transnational repression

Updated: Apr 11, 2023


Photo: Henry Thong


China hasn’t had much luck recently in its attempts to extradite Chinese citizens from Europe. As Roger Sahota reported last week, a court in Cyprus recently refused to a Chinese citizen accused of fraud to China to face criminal prosecution. That decision, alongside a recent Italian refusal to extradite[1] and the decision in Liu v Poland[2] may put some pressure on Interpol to consider whether Chinese authorities should be permitted to continue to post Red Notices and, at the very least, ought to give Interpol’s CCF pause for thought when considering whether or not Red Notices from China are compliant with Article 2 and Article 3 of the Interpol constitution.


Russia remains widely viewed as the worst abuser of the Interpol Red Notice system[3] and also leads the pack when it comes to the sheer volume of Red Notices issued. In 2021, detailed analysis by Freedom House[4] found that Russia was behind a whopping 38% of all Red Notices. For context, despite having a population more than double the size of Russia, the United States was responsible for a mere 4.3% of Red Notices[5]. So where does China stand in comparison when it comes to its deployment of Interpol Red Notices? In contrast to what might be described as Russia’s sledgehammer approach when using the Red Notice system to pursue and harass opponents – perhaps most notoriously, Vladimir Putin’s pursuit of Bill Browder[6] - China is perceived to have adopted a more subtle approach, relatively speaking, when it comes to using Red Notices to target opponents.


As Article 3 of Interpol’s constitution makes clear, Red Notices may not to be issued for political matters. But in China’s case, the distinction between an ordinary law offence, which might be properly subject to an Interpol Red Notice, and an offence tainted by political motivation, can be hard to distinguish. In its November 2021 report[7], Safeguard Defenders found that “the expanding nature of political crimes in Chinese criminal law is rapidly driving the basis for arrest warrants”. Safeguard Defenders concluded that the misuse of Interpol Red Notices by China “includes persecution on political, ethnic or religious grounds… harassment and intimidation of political opponents”. In many Chinese requested Red Notices that we've seen recently at Red Notice Monitor, politically motivated notices are often cloaked in allegations of ordinary law criminality relating to corruption, say, and similar offences.


The misuse of the Interpol Red Notice system by China represents part of China’s deceptively named policy of “Persuasion to return”. In Safeguard Defenders’ detailed report, “110 Overseas: Chinese Transnational Policing Gone Wild”[8],Persuasion to return is a key method within China’s larger involuntary return operations”. Whilst those “persuasive” tactics may involve the tracking down of a target’s family in China, or direct approaches of a target overseas, the additional use of a Red Notice to restrict the movement of a target can also be an effective Chinese tool to harass and fence in an individual whom China wishes to “encourage” to return to China without having to go through the pesky business of extradition or other lawful measures.


We have seen, in several of our cases, the deployment of Red Notices where the location of wanted individuals is already well known to the Chinese authorities, as well as the authorities of the countries in which those individuals currently live. Article 82 of Interpol’s Rules on the processing of data makes it clear that Red Notices should be published at the request of an NCB in order to seek the location of a wanted person and his/her detention, arrest etc, for the purposes of extradition, surrender or similar lawful action. Where the Chinese authorities are already sure of the location of a target, it follows that those Red Notices can have no real purpose other than to harass, and are almost certainly at odds with Interpol’s rules. Dr Ted Bromund of the Heritage Foundation shone a spotlight on this sort of Chinese Interpol abuse in an article in September 2022 in which he called for US leadership to respond to Chinese Interpol abuse[9]. Dr Bromund wrote that Chinese abuse of Interpol was “a full court press. The Chinese government doesn’t just invent crimes. It threatens families to force its victims back to China”.


That China has increased its use of the Interpol Red Notice mechanism in recent years to target dissidents and opponents is well known and, in particular, Chinese attempts to persecute Uyghurs who have fled the country are coming under increasing scrutiny[10],[11]. But that doesn’t mean that lawyers and activists can rest easy when it comes to the manipulation of international mechanisms by the Chinese authorities. Whilst China may have been recently unsuccessful in using lawful attempts at extradition, as the cases in Italy and Cyprus show, there is also a wealth of evidence tending to suggest that China will continue, by fair means or foul, to target opponents overseas. In China, the misuse of the Red Notice system is likely to form part of that strategy for some time to come.


We are co-hosting an event at the House of Lords on 29th March 2023 – China and Interpol: A New Age of Transnational Repression – to discuss the issue. Baroness Helena Kennedy KC will chair the event and speakers include Bill Browder, Dr Ted Bromund, Uyghur activist Nyrola Elimä and Ben Keith of Red Notice Monitor.



To attend the event please register here.




Footnotes [1] https://safeguarddefenders.com/en/blog/italys-highest-court-denies-china-extradition [2] https://www.5sah.co.uk/knowledge-hub/articles/2022-11-18/red-notice-monitor-publishes-interpol-take-note-everyone-faces-a-risk-of-ill-treatment-if-extradited-to-china-says-strasbourg [3] https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2023/01/24/interpol-russias-dirty-work-00078769 [4] https://freedomhouse.org/report/transnational-repression/russia [5] https://hir.harvard.edu/weaponizing-the-police-authoritarian-abuse-of-interpol/ [6] https://www.wired.co.uk/article/bill-browder-russia-red-notice [7] https://safeguarddefenders.com/en/blog/chinas-use-interpol-exposed-new-report [8] https://safeguarddefenders.com/sites/default/files/pdf/110%20Overseas%20%28v5%29.pdf [9] https://www.heritage.org/global-politics/commentary/us-leadership-needed-push-back-chinas-abuse-interpol [10] https://www.fairtrials.org/articles/news/interpol-deletes-red-notice-against-persecuted-uyghur-dissident-dolkun-isa/ [11] https://thehill.com/opinion/international/565482-as-china-targets-uyghurs-worldwide-democracies-must-prevent-interpol/

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