New Zealand court orders government to reconsider first China extradition decision

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand’s Court of Appeal on Tuesday ordered the government to reassess its decision to extradite a man to China to face murder charges due to human rights risks, while Beijing called for his handover as soon as possible in the interest of justice.

In New Zealand’s first extradition case involving the Asian giant, Justice Minister Andrew Little will have to reconsider the extradition of New Zealand resident Kyung Yup Kim, unless the government appeals to the highest court.

A former justice minister twice ordered South Korean-born Kim extradited to China, but Kim’s lawyer asked the courts to review those decisions for fear he might not receive a fair trial or face ill-treatment in the Chinese justice system.

Appeal Court Judge Helen Winkelmann said China’s criminal justice system was different from New Zealand, and it was a country where, it was reliably reported, torture remained widespread.

“New Zealand has obligations under international law to refuse to return a person to a jurisdiction in which they will be at substantial risk of torture, or where they will not receive a fair trial,” Winkelmann said in a written judgment.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the case had run for a decade.

“For the sake of upholding justice and giving justice to the victims, we hope the New Zealand side can impartially handle (the case) and extradite Kim to China as soon as possible,” Geng told a daily news briefing.

“China greatly safeguards and promotes human rights. China’s judicial system has outstanding guarantees for criminal suspects’ various rights and interests.”

New Zealand first agreed in 2015 to extradite Kim to Shanghai after the body of a 20-year-old woman, who had been strangled, was found in a field there in 2009. Kim has denied the murder accusation, according to court documents.

Kim’s lawyer Tony Ellis told Reuters by telephone that it was a “happy day” for his client who is being electronically monitored while on bail in Auckland.

“It is a judgment that has profound human rights importance that will resonate throughout the common law world,” he said.

China’s first extradition request to New Zealand comes as it seeks to drum up international support for the return of corruption suspects who have fled abroad and as protests rock Hong Kong over its legislature’s plan to amend laws allowing suspects to be extradited to mainland China.

Many Western countries have been reluctant to sign extradition treaties with China, pointing to its poor rights record and opaque criminal prosecution process.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez