As growing numbers of human rights lawyers are detained, we ask if a new generation of students will fill their shoes.
A high-level Chinese police official has been elected president of Interpol, the international police organisation, angering rights advocates concerned over abuses and lack of transparency within China’s legal system.
Meng Hongwei, vice public security minister, was named on Thursday as the first Chinese to hold the post at the Interpol general assembly on the Indonesian island of Bali.
Interpol made the announcement via its official Twitter feed.
Meng’s election comes as Chinese President Xi Jinping is seeking to give new momentum to his four-year-old campaign against corruption, including a push to seek the return of former officials and other suspects who had fled abroad.
China filed a list of 100 of its most-wanted suspects with Interpol in April 2014, about one third of whom have since been repatriated to face justice at home.
The anti-corruption drive is led by the Communist Party’s internal watchdog body, the highly secretive Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, rather than the police, prompting questions about its transparency and fairness.
More than one million officials have been handed various types of punishments.
While authorities deny their targets are selected for political purposes, several of the more prominent suspects have been associated with Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao and other rivals.
More generally, China’s police and judicial systems have been routinely criticised for abuses, including confessions under torture, arbitrary travel bans and the disappearance and detention without charges of political dissidents and their family members.
That has prompted reluctance among many Western nations to sign extradition treaties with China or return suspects wanted for non-violent crimes.
US officials have complained that China has asked for the return of corruption suspects while providing little or no information about the allegations against them.
Given those circumstances, Meng’s election is an “alarming prospect”, said Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch, the US-based watchdog group.
“While we think it’s important to fight corruption, the campaign has been politicised and undermines judicial independence.”
Meng’s election “will probably embolden and encourage abuses in the system”, she said, citing recent reports of Russia’s use of Interpol to attack President Vladimir Putin’s political opponents.
“This is extraordinarily worrying given China’s long-standing practice of trying to use Interpol to arrest dissidents and refugees abroad,” Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East Asia, said on Twitter.
At the same time, China’s three-decade-old economic boom has produced waves of embezzlement, bribery, corruption and other forms of white-collar crime that have forced the government to spread a wide net to track down suspects and their illicit earnings.
Meng will head Interpol’s executive committee in Lyon, France, that is responsible for providing guidance and direction to the organisation and implementing decisions made by its general assembly.
Jurgen Stock, Interpol secretary-general, is the organisation’s chief full-time official responsible for implementing decisions made by the general assembly and executive committee.
Meng takes over from Mireille Ballestrazzi of France for a four-year term. China joined Interpol in 1984.