Asia-Pacific, Crime & Justice, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

PERU-CHINA: Extradition to Death Row

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Mar 1 2010 (IPS) - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has asked for precautionary measures in Peru to prevent the extradition to China of Wong Ho Wing, a Chinese national accused of crimes that could carry a death sentence in his country.

Wong Ho Wing with his wife and one of his daughters.  Credit: Ángel Páez/IPS

Wong Ho Wing with his wife and one of his daughters. Credit: Ángel Páez/IPS

The IACHR’s assistant secretary, Elizabeth Abi-Mershed, informed Wong’s defence lawyer by letter of the Commission’s application to the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, after the Peruvian justice system had approved China’s extradition request.

Wong faces charges in his country of money laundering, bribery and customs tax fraud. The latter is a capital crime under Chinese law.

Abi-Mershed invoked paragraph two of Article 63 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which says: “In cases of extreme gravity and urgency, and when necessary to avoid irreparable damage to persons, the Court shall adopt such provisional measures as it deems pertinent.”

A United Nations report presented at the Fourth World Congress Against the Death Penalty, held in Geneva Feb. 24-26, said that 141 countries have abolished the capital punishment in law or in practice.

But China led the world in the number of death sentences in 2008 – at least 7,003 – and executions – at least 1,718 the same year – according to the London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

Wong was arrested by the Peruvian police Oct. 17, 2008 at the Lima airport as he was about to leave the country.

The Peruvian authorities were acting on an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol at the request of China’s Public Security Ministry. Since his arrest, Wong has been held at the Sarita Colonia maximum security prison.

On Jan. 20, 2009 the Second Criminal Chamber of the Peruvian Supreme Court accepted a writ of habeas corpus on Wong’s behalf, rejecting his extradition because the tax fraud charge against him pressed by the Chinese justice system is punishable in that country by death.

An appeal of habeas corpus safeguards a person’s fundamental rights to life and liberty against acts or omissions of the judicial system that could cause the person harm. In Peru the law permits using habeas corpus writs against judicial decisions that have already been taken.

Nevertheless the extradition process has gone ahead.

The Criminal Code “stipulates that a person may not be extradited to a country where his or her alleged crime is subject to the death penalty,” Wong’s defence lawyer, Luis Lamas Puccio, told IPS.

The Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture similarly prohibits the extradition of a person charged with a crime that incurs the death penalty. However, “the Peruvian judicial branch is processing Wong’s extradition,” Lamas Puccio said.

Given the possibility that the Peruvian authorities may actually extradite Wong, his defence counsel appealed to the IACHR.

In March 2009, the executive secretary of the IACHR, Santiago Cantón, informed Lamas Puccio that the Commission had asked Lima not to agree to the extradition request.

In a letter to Peruvian President Alan García, the Inter-American Commission requested that the Peruvian state “refrain from extraditing Mr. Wong Ho Wing until the IACHR has ruled on the petition pending before it,” which lays claim to his rights to life, personal integrity, equality before the law, judicial guarantees and judicial protection.

But the extradition proceedings continued, and the case came before the Permanent Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court, presided over by Judge Robinson Gonzales.

In spite of the writ of habeas corpus and the IACHR’s precautionary measure, the judge continued processing the extradition request and elected to ask the Chinese embassy for assurances that the Chinese justice system would not execute Wong if he was extradited and found guilty.

On Dec. 10, 2009, the Chinese ambassador Zhao Wuyi informed Gonzales that he (Zhao) had “full authorisation to make a commitment that the death penalty will not be applied to Wong Ho Wing” if he were extradited as requested.

Next day Zhao told the judge that the Chinese Supreme People’s Tribunal (Supreme Court) had formally decided that, if Wong were extradited from Peru to China and found guilty, the Tribunal “would not sentence him to death.”

The non-governmental National Human Rights Coordinating Committee (CNDDHH) filed an “amicus curiae” (friend of the court) brief with the Criminal Chamber, pointing out China’s track record on executions, and casting doubt on the assurances it had given.

“If extradition is granted, (the accused) will face a high risk of being sentenced to death and executed in China,” the brief said.

“There is no guarantee whatsoever that the Chinese authorities will keep their promise (to Judge Gonzales), given that China holds the world record for executions,” CNDDHH executive secretary Ronald Gamarra told IPS.

But in a majority decision Jan. 27, the Permanent Criminal Chamber presided over by Gonzales ruled in favour of extraditing Wong.

Now the way is clear for an executive branch resolution to authorise turning over Wong into the custody of the Chinese authorities.

In an attempt to prevent this, lawyer Lamas Puccio presented another writ of habeas corpus in February to prevent such action by President García, Foreign Minister José García Belaúnde and Justice Minister Aurelio Pastor, who have the responsibility of executing the extradition warrant.

“According to the law, the court must state its verdict within 24 hours in the case of precautionary legal action to save the life of a person in danger, but 16 days have gone by without a ruling,” the lawyer said.

“Political interference is occurring in favour of the Chinese government. This might explain why the Justice Ministry refuses to provide any information, on the pretext that the case is confidential, which hinders a proper defence for the accused,” he added.

In Gamarra’s view, the Peruvian government may be behaving like this in order to avoid upsetting its excellent political and economic relations with China. A free trade treaty between the two countries came into force on Monday, Mar. 1.

But “the Peruvian government must be reminded that no treaty in the world can take precedence over the life of a human being,” said Gamarra.

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