Most Tories are focusing on the leadership race but for some there are other concerns. Take the five MPs who last year were sanctioned by the Chinese state. Tom Tugendhat, Neil O’Brien, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Nusrat Ghani and Tim Loughton were among a group of nine UK citizens to face sanctions in March for raising awareness of China’s human rights abuses against Ughur Muslim. Having banned this group from entering China, there are fears that Beijing will now try to seek revenge on them through other means too.
One possible mechanism is by the exploitation of Interpol, the global police agency now feared to be acting in Chinese state interests. Interpol’s most-wanted ‘Red Notice’ list – designed to arrest and capture fugitive criminals – now includes political refugees and dissidents. Beijing is accused of having orchestrated the issuance of Interpol warnings against Uyghur activists, including Dolkun Isa, the president of the World Uyghur Congress.
In November one of the sanctioned MPs, Tim Loughton, raised this issued publicly in the House of Commons. He questioned Home Office minister Kit Malthouse about ‘reports of Red Notices having been issued by the Chinese Government against British parliamentarians.’ Malthouse did not directly address Loughton’s claims about such reports, with a Home Office spokesman refusing to confirm whether Red Notices have or have not been issued. The MPs have since met and discussed the issue with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
Now though, Malthouse’s superior, Priti Patel has responded to the concerns of Loughton and others in a letter co-signed by Truss. The two senior ministers told their colleagues that ‘we are deeply concerned by China’s previous attempts to use Interpol Red Notices to target activists in third countries’ and noted their ‘continued commitment to stand with you in the face of China’s unwarranted and unacceptable actions against you.’ The pair take the view that ‘a Red Notice from China in pursuit of a sanctioned parliamentarian would represent an unprecedented and egregious breach’ of Interpol’s constitution which ‘prohibits any intervention of a political character.’
Furthermore ‘Red Notices should only be issued where there is evidence of a breach of criminal law in the country seeking extradition… there is nothing to indicate that China considers you to have broken criminal law.’ They add however that in view of existing safeguards ‘we judge it unlikely that China could use its sanctions as a basis to issue a Red Notice against you via Interpol.’ Such concerns though have been raised by Patel directly with Interpol’s Secretary-General during a recent meeting.
The Home Secretary has also written to officials at the agency to warn ‘that any alerts linked from China in the context of the sanctions imposed would be wholly unwarranted and of a political nature’. Officials will also ask Interpol to ‘examine any wider circulations [of alerts] which may be related to you or your work’.
Nice to see some solidarity on the government benches for once…
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