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Italy’s Supreme Court prevents China extradition, in historic first

Corte di Cassazione
The decision is likely related to a brand-new negative assessment of China’s judicial and penitentiary system, which the European Court of Human Rights recently upheld in a precedent-setting case; Italy may have become the first EU country to implement it

Italian Supreme Court blocks extradition to China. On Wednesday evening, Italy’s highest judicial chamber overturned a decision by a lower court to comply with Beijing’s request to extradite a Chinese citizen. The reasons are unknown, but Safeguard Defenders (a human rights NGO) noted it follows EU-level developments and concerns about China’s judicial system.

  • The decision “follows the public prosecutor’s recommendation to rule against the extradition on the basis of the evidence provided by the defence that it would have breached Italy’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights on multiple accounts.”

A historic first. “This decision is the first by a member State of the Council of Europe after the European Court of Human Rights’ unanimous assessment of a ‘general situation of violence’ in China’s judicial and penitentiary systems,” which went into effect in late January 2023 with the Liu v. Poland ruling.

  • That precedent-setting case established the principle of non-refoulmentmeaning the prohibition against extraditing or deporting a person to a country where they stand to be at risk of torture or other inhumane and degrading treatment.
  • In other words, Italy may have just become the first EU country to reject China’s request for extradition on the grounds of defending the individual from a worse fate in the Chinese prison system.

Who was the target? According to Safeguard Defenders, it’s a “former CEO of a well-known Chinese company, wanted for alleged economic crimes, detained on an Interpol Red Notice while passing through Italy in summer 2022 and released on home arrest only a few weeks earlier, by order of the same [Supreme] Court, following an appeal by [Enrico] Di Fiorino,” a defence attorney.

Safeguard Defenders’ take. The NGO stated that the Italian judiciary “has stepped in to make things right,” marking a departure from a tendency on behalf of European governments “to take political responsibility for upholding the international rule of law and ensuring the full enjoyment of fundamental human rights – including freedom from torture and the right to a fair trial – by maintaining bilateral extradition treaties” with the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong.

  • “With many cases still ongoing, we not only hope this trend will continue but also that Governments still maintaining bilateral extradition treaties will take stock of these clear-cut developments and finally move towards their suspension.”

“Without a doubt, PRC authorities will once more lament how this is turning the EU into a ‘safe haven’ for so-called ‘fugitives’, but EU member states can and should only respond in one way: it is up to the PRC authorities to start maintaining the many empty promises made under the international human rights treaties they have signed on to, and pursue a profound reform of its judicial and penitentiary system in line with international standards,” wrote Safeguard Defenders. Unfortunately, we know that the latest series of announced reforms go in the exact opposite direction.”

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