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Inhuman Treatment in Chinese Prisons: Italian Supreme Court Halts Extradition

The Italian Criminal Cassation Judgment

In the recent judgment of the Italian Criminal Cassation Court No. 21125/2023, a crucial issue is addressed concerning whether to extradite an individual to the People’s Republic of China. The judgment raises concerns about the possibility of inhuman treatment in Chinese prisons and the use of torture to obtain confessions.

The Situation in Chinese Prisons

The judgment highlights the general situation of violence in Chinese prisons, where torture is often used to extract confessions. This practice has been reported by various international sources, including United Nations bodies and governmental and non-governmental organizations. These reports indicate a widespread pattern of violence in Chinese detention facilities, rendering the need to prove specific reasons for fear in extradition cases unnecessary.

The CEDU Judgment Liu v. Poland

The judgment references the case of the European Court of Human Rights (CEDU) v. Poland, where the existence of a general situation of violence in Chinese prisons, with frequent recourse to torture to obtain confessions, was acknowledged. CEDU ruled that in the case of extradition to China, there is a concrete risk of inhuman and degrading treatment.

Extradition Risk to China

In the specific case under examination, the Italian Criminal Cassation Court reviewed an extradition request involving a Chinese citizen accused of the illegal absorption of public deposits under Chinese law. The defense contested the failure to recognize the risk of exposure to inhuman and degrading treatment, with the habitual use of torture to obtain confessions. This risk was supported by public political statements made by the applicant regarding the ongoing repression in Hong Kong.

Limitations Related to International Treaties

The judgment underscores the limitations associated with international treaties. Despite China’s signing of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it has never ratified it. Furthermore, although China has ratified the Convention against Torture, it has not acceded to the Optional Protocol, which establishes a mechanism for individual complaints. This means that individuals cannot resort to independent international protection mechanisms in cases of human rights violations in China.

Concerns About Treatment of Detainees

The judgment references concerns raised by reliable sources, including reports from the United Nations and the European Parliament, regarding forced organ harvesting from detainees in China. These concerns contributed to deeming the reassurances provided by Chinese authorities in response to requests for additional information from the lower court in the case under examination as overly generic.

A Judgment with Universal Implications

The Italian Criminal Cassation Court issued a judgment with universal implications. The legal principle established by the judgment states that in cases of extradition to the People’s Republic of China, there is a concrete risk of inhuman treatment and tolerated torture, along with a substantial impossibility to verify conditions in detention centers. Additionally, the judgment emphasizes that generic reassurances from requesting authorities are insufficient. Consequently, the extradition was annulled, prioritizing the protection of the rights of the extraditee.

This judgment represents a significant precedent in extradition proceedings, not only concerning China but also in cases involving countries with systemic deficiencies in their penal systems. The protection of human rights remains central to judicial decisions in such cases.