Liu Jianchao accused of directing fugitive recovery operations targeting regime’s opponents
By Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor
June 19, 2023
President Xi Jinping. The NGO Safeguard Defenders says the operations were aimed at silencing dissent inside China. Photograph: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images
A cross-party group of British MPs and peers has written to the prime minister urging him to reconsider a decision to allow a visit this week by a senior Chinese government official accused of overseeing the forcible repatriation of hundreds of dissidents back to China, including some from the UK.
Liu Jianchao, the head of the international department of the Communist party of China central committee, is due to speak at the Chatham House thinktank and meet UK parliamentarians.
Victims of China’s transnational extraditions and their families are exploring if it is possible to make an application for Liu’s arrest at Westminster magistrates court on the basis he is accused of international crimes.
The peers and MPs say they are appalled at the visit and question how someone such as Liu could have been given a visa. The group, including Sarah Champion, the chair of the international development select committee, Lord Alton, the Conservative MP Tim Loughton and the Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael, say that between 2015 and 2017 Liu had ultimate command for thousands of so-called international fugitive recovery operations and the irregular methods employed by the Chinese government to bring them back to China.
The criticism is part of a wider battle between some parliamentarians and ministers over a perceived new willingness by ministers to avoid confrontations over Chinese repression in an effort to improve wider relations with Beijing.
The UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, has been at odds with some MPs who have accused him of going soft on China in recent months. Cleverly is due to visit Beijing later this year, but is struggling to manage angry backbenchers.
The group of British parliamentarians cites a submission written by the NGO Safeguard Defenders that says Liu, as director of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection’s (CCDI) International Cooperation Bureau, had direct command of and responsibility for thousands of international fugitive recovery operations.
The recovery operation was presented as a drive against corrupt officials who had fled abroad and needed to be extradited to face charges. But Safeguard Defenders says this was not the case and the operations targeted opponents of the regime.
Laura Harth, the Safeguard Defenders campaign director, said “the ‘persuasion to return’ operations account for the vast majority of successful fugitive returns and flaunted those individuals’ as well as their families’ rights to a legal defence and fair trial”.
In a 21-page dossier, she claims the “methods employed institute a wanton climate of fear within overseas diaspora communities, aimed at silencing dissent and accounts of gross human rights violations inside China”.
The report claims Liu was the co-author of “the special investigative mechanism of liuzhi, a system of incommunicado detention firmly outside the bounds of any judicial overview, that institutionalizes enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture for investigative purposes by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection”. The report estimates that more than 9,000 Chinese fugitives or exiles have been extracted from abroad.
The group, coordinated by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, acknowledges in its letter that diplomacy requires meeting people with whom one disagrees, and that the visit has not been sponsored by the UK government but they say “a line is crossed when someone with his human rights background is afforded such a platform”.
The letter says “Liu himself, when speaking of the system of ‘liuzhi’ which he helped design – consisting of enforced disappearances, incommunicado detention and torture – said: ‘These are not criminal or judicial arrests and they are more effective.’”
The report estimates approximately up to 70 people are put into Iiuzhi every day.
As secretary of the Zhejiang CCDI, Liu Jianchao had command responsibility over the use of the system in Zhejiang province between 2017 and 2018. As a member of the 19th Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and a member of the 20th party central committee, he continues to bear oversight responsibility for the implementation of the measure nationwide.