Beijing is urging New Zealand to extradite a murder-accused man “as soon as possible” after a court temporarily blocked him being sent because of concerns about human rights and torture.
New Zealand’s Court of Appeal on Tuesday quashed a ministerial order allowing Kyung Kim – a Korean citizen and long-time New Zealand resident – to be extradited to China over accusations he killed a woman while on holiday in Shanghai in 2009.
In a strongly worded decision, it ruled the minister in charge needed to reconsider the case, taking into account evidence about whether Kim, who denies the charge, was at risk of torture and whether he would get a fair trial.
In the first case of its kind between the two countries, China’s government requested he be extradited in 2011 and the matter has been caught in a long-running series of legal challenges since.
In response to the court ruling, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing put “great importance to the protection and promotion of human rights” and “effectively guarantees various legal rights of the criminal suspects”.
“We hope New Zealand can handle it in a fair manner and extradite Kim back to China as soon as possible,” he said.
Questions have been raised about whether the decision could cause a diplomatic rift between New Zealand and the world’s second-largest economy, it’s biggest and key trading partner.
Kiwi Foreign Minister Winston Peters on Wednesday denied the case was an issue and said it had not be raised when he met with China’s ambassador, Wu Xi, the previous night.
“I am not concerned,” he told reporters in Wellington.
The office of Justice Minister Andrew Little, who will now have to decide on the extradition, in a statement said he would not comment while the Crown decided whether to appeal the ruling.
The appeals court ruled that while diplomatic assurances had been given, there were lingering concerns that needed to be probed.
“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,” Justice Helen Winkelmann said.
Kim is accused of the murder of 20-year-old Pei Yun Chen after her beaten body was found wrapped in black cloth in a Shanghai wasteland.
The case comes as China tries to gain international support for extraditions. It has been met with resistance from Western countries, who have cited concerns about its human rights record.
In Hong Kong, thousands have taken to the streets again to protest a legislative proposal that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China, following on from mass demonstrations on Sunday.