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China dissident sees threat in new Interpol chief

© AFP | "The Chinese government's message to all political opponents like me or party officials who have fled the country is: 'Wherever you are, the international police work with us and we will find you'," Wei Jingsheng said

LYON (AFP) - 

The election of a Chinese security official as head of Interpol could pose risks to opponents of China's government who have fled the country, a prominent exiled dissident warned Wednesday.

Wei Jingsheng, often considered the father of China's democracy movement, said the election of Meng Hongwei as chief of the global police organisation could give Beijing new leverage over its critics.

"The Chinese government's message to all political opponents like me or party officials who have fled the country is: 'Wherever you are, the international police work with us and we will find you'," Wei said in Lyon, the southeastern French city where Interpol has its headquarters.

"That's frightening," he said, adding that Meng "is still vice-minister of public security in China. He has led the secret police."

Meng's election in November came as China's government has sought more international help to track down alleged economic criminals, including corrupt officials, who have been targeted by President Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign.

But the drive, known as Operation Fox Hunt, has proved controversial in some countries, which say that Chinese law enforcement agents have been operating covertly on their soil without the approval or consent of local authorities.

"The collaboration between the Chinese government and Interpol is going to increase, and that concerns not only officials suspected of corruption who are on the run, but also dissidents abroad," Wei said.

"Before, there were already problems, but this risks making it worse."

Wei, a writer who has been tipped for the Nobel Peace Prize in the past, is a former electrician who openly pushed for democracy after the death of former leader Mao Zedong in 1976.

He spent 18 years in prison, partially on death row, until he was allowed to go into exile in 1997 after an intervention by then US president Bill Clinton. He now lives in the United States.

Interpol, which acts as a network connecting the law enforcement agencies of its 190 member countries, does not have agents of its own with powers of arrest.

But Wei, who said Wednesday that his requests to meet with Interpol officials in Lyon were unsuccessful, said allegations from Beijing, "of terrorism for example, could be used to have political opponents sent home."

© 2017 AFP