As China's vice minister of public security Meng Hongwei takes the presidency of international police organization Interpol, which issued a "red notice" for wanted billionaire Guo Wengui earlier this year, dissidents in exile have voiced fears that they could be next in line.
Earlier this month in Germany, veteran democracy activist Wei Jingsheng and fellow Chinese dissidents and journalists demonstrated outside Germany's federal police bureau over concerns that Interpol will be coopted by authoritarian member states to pursue peaceful activists.
"Who are the biggest criminals in the world?" Qian Yuejun, chief editor of the Chinese newspaper Europe China Guidance, said in a short speech at the rally outside Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office. "They are the people who take away other people's human rights."
"There are a number of authoritarian states, authoritarian regimes, that are members of Interpol, and they are now using Interpol to pursue people who challenge their power," Qian said. "This is wrong. Interpol should be used to pursue criminals, not democracy activists or human rights campaigners."
Wei told the gathering that his name has long been on the Chinese government's Interpol wanted list, leading to his brief detention in Switzerland when he traveled there to attend an event.
"China has already used Interpol to do a lot of bad things, and now the vice minister of public security is in charge of it," Wei said. "Interpol is gradually sliding down the slippery slope towards becoming a fascist organization reminiscent of World War II."
"Now, Interpol is once more being infiltrated by the dictatorial regime in China, who have been placing huge pressure on exile dissidents for many years now," Wei said. "They will use various excuses to target these exiles, including labeling ethnic minorities as terrorists."
"I don't want to see them becoming a hitman for dictatorial regimes."
Qian said there is a precedent for such a takeover, when the organization was controlled by key figures in the German secret police.
Wei said he had contacted Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock to discuss the dissidents' concerns, but that he had declined to get involved in the campaign, saying he doesn't engage in politics.
Trumped-up criminal charges
Qian said that Interpol regulations prohibit any country from pursuing suspects for political, military or religious reasons, but said authoritarian member states are flouting such rules through the use of trumped-up criminal charges instead.
"Actually ... Interpol itself has no power as an organization; it is more of an independent association," he said. "It can't be regulated by anything outside itself, so it is very vulnerable to being manipulated."
But he said the organization does have the option of making a "red notice" advisory only, meaning that member states can choose whether or not to act on it.
Meanwhile, Meng has called for deeper cooperation between the public and private sectors to combat online and financial crime.
Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock responded by saying that the organization is "ideally positioned" to be the gateway and interface for more streamlined cooperation between global law enforcement agencies and private industry partners.
With 190 member countries, Interpol is the second largest intergovernmental organization next to the United Nations.
Meng was elected president at the Interpol General Assembly held in 2016 and will serve until 2020.
China already wields increasing influence among its smaller neighbors, who have proved willing to detain dissidents fleeing persecution and send them back again without the need for Interpol.
Chinese dissidents who have sought political refuge in Thailand have described a climate of fear for exiles in the country, which has cooperated with the repatriation of several peaceful critics of the regime, including Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai and Chongqing-based activists Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei.
Jiang and Dong, who had fled persecution in their home country, were handed back to Chinese authorities last November in a move that drew strong criticism from the U.N. They are now in criminal detention in Chongqing, where they face subversion charges.
Jiang's wife Chu Ling and Dong's wife Gu Shuhua and daughter Dong Xuerui flew to Canada from Bangkok for resettlement as political refugees just days after the two men were repatriated. They now fear Jiang and Dong are at risk of torture and other violations of their rights.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.