Lawyers say China using Interpol to seek dissident’s return

Despite an absence of an extradition treaty between US and China, attorneys are asking the Biden administration to release a Chinese democracy advocate from immigration custody for deportation to his homeland.

This is one of a handful of cases, human rights advocates say, in which China has used the Interpol “red notice” system to try to force return of fugitives from the US.

The man was arrested in June and is being held in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center.

ICE says it arrested the man for overstaying his visa and has not commented on whether the Chinese charges led to his detention.

But the man’s attorneys say China is trying to circumvent American efforts to target dissidents. The man and his immediate family are seeking asylum in the U.S.

A red notice issued in January accuses the man of being the ringleader of a conspiracy to make illegal profits through a mining business and recruit former prisoners to attack a supposed enemy. The man’s advocates say other documents from China’s legal system show he is being framed for crimes that have already been linked to others.

“There are countries that abuse the Interpol red notice system, especially including China,” said John Sandweg, one of the man’s attorneys.

Sandweg, a former acting director of ICE, said the agency risked being manipulated by red notices and becoming “a tool to continue the persecution of law abiding activists and dissidents.”

China’s embassy in Washington and Interpol did not respond to requests for comment.

According to his attorneys, the man served as a village chief when Chinese authorities sought to seize a friend’s home for a planned industrial park.

The man says he allowed villagers to protest peacefully and helped the friend protest the central government directly.

The man says he was jailed for 30 days in retaliation and eventually fled with his family to Hong Kong, where he joined in the territory’s protests amid Beijing’s efforts to tighten control. Fearing that he would be arrested again, he says he and his family entered the United States last year on a visa that gave them six months’ legal permission.

The man’s attorneys say he first learned of the Interpol red notice against him when an ICE attorney notified him following an immigration court hearing. The red notice says an arrest warrant was issued last August, and he faces a possible life sentence.

“What ICE doesn’t understand well is that (an) Interpol Red Notice from China is highly political and not a reliable indicator for real criminal activities,” said Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher at the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

A federal grand jury this month indicted nine people on allegations they served as agents in “Operation Fox Hunt,” which the Chinese government has characterized as an effort to track down corrupt officials and criminals abroad. The Justice Department called Operation Fox Hunt “extralegal” and alleges the indicted people “conducted surveillance of and engaged in a campaign to harass, stalk and coerce” people wanted by Beijing to return to China.

Interpol was criticized in 2016 after a top Chinese official, Meng Hongwei, was elected as its president, with some warning that China would be newly assertive.

Meng’s four-year term would be cut short when he vanished in 2018 during a visit to China from France, where he and his family had moved.

Meng eventually resurfaced to plead guilty to fraud charges and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. His wife, who eventually received asylum in France along with their children, has said she believes Meng was a victim of political persecution.

(The name of the man is being withheld because a sibling still living in China has reported being threatened by government agents with criminal charges unless his brother returns to the country)

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