A report issued on Tuesday by Spain-based human rights organization Safeguard Defenders said that more than 600 Taiwanese were extradited from other countries to China from 2016 to 2019.
In China, these individuals were at risk of persecution and “gross human rights abuses,” the report said, adding that extraditing or deporting individuals to countries where they would face such conditions was in violation of international norms and the “principle of non-refoulement.”
The organization cited previous reports that said “human rights abuses are both widespread and systematic” in China and include “arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances and forced confessions.”
China has said that the extraditions are related to telephone fraud that victimizes its people. These cases usually evoke little sympathy from Taiwanese, who dismiss the detainees as criminals. However there is no way to know for certain whether the allegations are true without a fair trial. The high-profile cases of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were detained for nearly three years in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟), show that China is willing to make arbitrary arrests and detentions for political reasons.
Convincing foreign governments to extradite Taiwanese to China helps Beijing legitimize its claims of sovereignty over Taiwan, but there are other possible motivations. China has claimed that diplomatic hurdles encountered by Taipei were the fault of the Democratic Progressive Party administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who Beijing sees as a “separatist.” Beijing considers the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) as more compliant, as it advocates for Chinese unification with Taiwan. China might be attempting to manipulate Taiwanese into electing another KMT government by holding a threat over Taiwanese living or traveling abroad of possible arbitrary extradition to China while the DPP holds power.
Even if those extradited are guilty of the crimes they are accused of, they deserve a fair trial and an extradition to the place where they hold citizenship, along with humane prison conditions.
Those who engage in telephone fraud might do so for a number of reasons. The Safeguard Defenders report says that many of those extradited are often without family or roots in Taiwan. That would make them vulnerable, and perhaps unable to access higher education or conventional forms of work.
There are also those who study or travel abroad and run out of funds, and then look for whatever work they can do with their language abilities and visas. A student might sign up for what they think is work in a traditional call center, only to find out later that it is engaging in fraudulent activities. The call center might even take their passport or use the threat of violence to keep them engaged in illegal work. A proper investigation would be needed to determine if these circumstances existed. Those who were described in the report did not have the benefit of such a probe.
Spain is listed in the report as having extradited more Taiwanese to China than any other country. Taiwan has made diplomatic breakthroughs with other EU countries over the past few years, and the government should communicate with its friends in the region to put pressure on Spain over the matter.
Other countries on the list, such as the Philippines and Indonesia, are Taiwan’s partners through the New Southbound Policy, and the government could raise the issue when discussing trade or exchanges with those countries.
Taipei must do more to deal with extraditions of Taiwanese to China, which is a violation of human rights and an embarrassment for the administration. Every Taiwanese, regardless of the allegations against them, deserves equal rights.
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