Several countries have deported Taiwanese fraud suspects to China in recent years, a new trend that undermines Taiwan’s sovereignty and raises issues as to the ability of the suspects to receive a fair trial. Olivia Yang looks at this development.
Philippine authorities on Jan. 13 arrested 133 Taiwanese and Chinese suspects in a crackdown on telecom scams. While it remains to be seen where the suspects will be deported, over 500 Taiwanese nationals worldwide have been deported to China since 2014, nearly 300 of them last year alone.
The deported Taiwanese have been suspected of working with telecom or cyber fraud rings in countries including Kenya, Malaysia, Cambodia, Armenia, Vietnam, and Spain.
The Spanish National Court last December made two decisions that granted Beijing’s request for 214 Taiwanese and Chinese fraud suspects to be deported to China.
“The international community, except for those countries with which (Taiwan) has diplomatic relations, consider Taiwan to be part of China and take the view that its independence cannot be achieved unilaterally,” reads the Madrid Court’s written ruling.
While the move was “welcomed” by the Chinese side, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) “expressed deep regret and dissatisfaction” over the decision.
“[T]he Republic of China (ROC) is a sovereign state. Mainland China must face the fact of the existence of the ROC,” reads a statement from the MAC. “The various tactics used by Beijing to pressure Taiwan in the international arena only increase the resentment of the Taiwan public and are absolutely unacceptable to the people of Taiwan.”
It has yet to be determined how many out of the over 200 suspects arrested in Spain are Taiwanese, said Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), since officials have been unable to visit and identify them.
Countries that have sent Taiwanese fraud suspects to China have cited Beijing’s “one China” — often confused with a country’s “one China” policy — in which Beijing maintains that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. Beijing has also defended the deportations, saying that the victims of the crimes were Chinese citizens, a claim that has been backed by China’s diplomatic allies.
Another argument China uses is that Taiwanese suspects often receive lighter sentences, or none, when sent back to Taiwan.
Twenty suspects arrested in a Malaysian telephone scam case were deported back to Taiwan and then released due to lack of evidence in April 2016. However, after Latvia last year turned down Beijing’s request to send 110 Taiwanese suspects to China, 44 of them on Jan. 20 were charged with aggravated fraud by a Taiwan court.
China, on the other hand, on Dec. 21, 2017 convicted 44 Taiwanese of operating telephone scams from Kenya and Indonesia. Two were sentenced to 15 years in jail, while the remaining 42 received sentences of up to 14 years in jail and fined.
Taiwan’s MOFA has protested against Beijing’s actions and condemned them as violations of human rights, especially in cases like Armenia, where the government “neither released information concerning the case during the investigation nor disclosed the location of the ROC nationals.”
But the objections have had little effect, as overseas Taiwanese suspects are continuously deported to China.
Regarding the 2016 Kenya case, international human rights organization Amnesty International expressed concerns that Taiwanese suspects “face a real risk of human rights violations” when sent to China.
“If deported to China, they could face serious violations of their fair trial rights.There is no doubt Kenya cherishes its relationship with China, but by no means should it sacrifice these individuals’ rights for political expediency, the due process of the law must be respected,” said Victor Odero, Amnesty International’s East Africa Campaigner.
According to the Human Rights Watch 2017 World Report, Taiwanese suspects deported from Armenia, Cambodia, and Kenya, “were given no discernible opportunity to contest their deportations before a competent court in those countries.”
Corruption and politics meddling in China’s legal system
Academics and experts have over the years written extensively on corruption within the Chinese legal system and how politics control law in Beijing.
In a 2016 Foreign Policy article, Jerome A. Cohen, co-director of the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at New York University School of Law, wrote that even though Chinese President Xi Jinping has emphasized the government’s efforts to end corruption within China’s legal system, “in principle the party controls the legal system at every level.”
“Despite his emphasis on ‘rule of law,’ Xi wants local courts reliably to submit to the discipline of the central party and judicial officials. He doesn’t want local judges to be independent of the central government, but he does aim to stop the local influences that distort local judgments,” Cohen wrote.
China’s criminal justice system is also known to violate human rights by denying suspects’ access to family members or lawyers of their own choosing while awaiting trial. There have also been many cases in which the state prevented lawyers from meeting clients or accessing necessary court material.
In March 2017, Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-che disappeared while traveling in China. Chinese authorities later that month confirmed they were detaining Lee on suspicion of “subverting state power.” Lee went on trial in September 2017 in the Yueyang Intermediate People’s Court for attempts to promote human rights and democratic values on social media and messaging platforms. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced five years in jail last November.
The Taiwanese activist was unable to contact his family since his detention. Lee’s lawyer was also appointed by the Chinese court.
On May 29, 2009, China and Taiwan signed a “Cross-Strait Joint Crime-Fighting and Judicial Mutual Assistance Agreement” which stipulates that each side should “provide facilitation for visits by family members in accordance with each Party’s own rules and regulations.”
After Lee’s verdict was handed down, Taiwan Presidential Office Spokesperson Alex Huang said the manner in which China handled Lee’s case had damaged cross-Strait relations and challenged Taiwanese people’s belief in freedom and democracy.
This development has also raised fears that China may eventually pressure governments worldwide to send to China Taiwanese nationals who are suspected of having committed other types of “crimes” as defined by Chinese law, such as encouraging “separatism.”
Top photo: From Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0.