AUCKLAND, New Zealand — New Zealand’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday that a murder suspect could be extradited to China, but only if the government received sufficient assurances from Beijing that he would not be subject to torture and would receive a fair trial.
The decision, with three judges in favor and two against, came after 15 months of deliberation. It overturned a Court of Appeal ruling that the defendant, Kyung Yup Kim, a legal resident of New Zealand who is in his mid-40s, could not be safely extradited because of China’s human rights record.
Mr. Kim is accused of killing a Chinese woman, Peiyun Chen, 20, while on vacation in Shanghai in 2009. The Chinese authorities said that before he could be questioned, Mr. Kim left for South Korea, where he was born.
It was the first time that China had asked New Zealand to extradite a citizen or resident. Like most Western countries, New Zealand does not have an extradition treaty with China. Mr. Kim has been fighting the extradition request for the past 10 years. He spent five years in jail before being released on bail in Auckland.
New Zealand’s previous, center-right government, which was in power from 2008 to 2017, twice ordered Mr. Kim’s extradition. Both times, courts ordered the justice minister to reconsider the case.
Mr. Kim and his lawyer, Tony Ellis, have argued that “no reasonable minister” could make the case to extradite him, given China’s record on human rights. In a statement after the ruling on Friday, Mr. Ellis condemned the decision and reiterated the belief that his client could not be safely extradited.
“Under the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Republic of China is a rogue state,” Mr. Ellis said. “It engages in endemic use of torture, does not guarantee fair trials and, more widely, rejects the basic premise that it must respect international human rights law. The New Zealand government has repeatedly called out China for breaking its international obligations, in particular in respect of human rights.”
Foreigners charged in China have undergone closed-door hearings of only a few hours, and some have reported being tortured during interrogation. Yang Hengjun, a Chinese-born Australian citizen charged with espionage, said he was tortured over a period of months, while the Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who also faced charges of espionage, have been held in jail since 2018 and went on trial. No verdicts have yet been announced.
Concern over China’s rights record has played a part in extradition issues elsewhere in the region. In 2017, Australia backed away from a proposed extradition treaty with China over wariness about its repressive legal system.
In its ruling on Friday, which filled 150 pages, the Supreme Court said that the cabinet minister responsible for approving China’s request could sign off on Mr. Kim’s extradition if the minister received evidence from the Chinese government “that there were no substantial grounds to believe that Mr. Kim would be in danger of being subjected to an act of torture were he to be surrendered.”
The court laid out circumstances under which it might be possible to rely on such assurances, as well as specific guidance the New Zealand government would have to receive in order to permit the extradition, including being allowed to monitor the suspect every 48 hours.
The Supreme Court gave the New Zealand government until the end of July to get the assurances from China and report back.
New Zealand’s relationship with China has come under scrutiny recently, particularly as tensions have increased between China and Australia. After meeting in New Zealand this week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia raised concerns about China’s activities in a number of areas, including Hong Kong and the South China Sea. A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry dismissed their comments as “irresponsible” and “groundless.”
Charlotte Graham-McLay contributed reporting from Wellington, New Zealand.