Turkey has just been selected to host the Interpol General Assembly in 2021. Choosing this despotic state to host the annual meeting of Interpol is a bizarre decision for many reasons, but primarily because Turkey is notorious for abusing the Interpol Red Notice system to target political opponents of the regime.
In January, Turkey put out a request to extradite Fethullah Gülen from the United States. The request went as far as the United States sending a delegation to Turkey about the matter, a move that resulted in allegations of the Trump administration trying to do questionable deals with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Turkey should be Interpol’s biggest concern, not the host of its General Assembly.
More recently, in the United Kingdom, the failed attempt to have Hamdi Akın İpek extradited showed how prepared Turkey is to attack its political opponents no matter where they are. İpek is the chairman of the Koza-İpek Group and Koza Ltd, whose newspapers and TV stations have been confiscated by Turkish officials for criticizing Erdoğan’s regime. The extradition request against him was found by U.K. courts to have been politically motivated.
From my own law practice, I have seen several cases of Kurdish political dissidents who have suffered the most appalling torture, and even after managing to leave Turkey, they are then requested for extradition through Interpol based on manufactured allegations or nakedly political offences.
Erdoğan wants to crush the Gülenists, Kurds and anyone who he thinks sympathizes with them. The rule of law has collapsed in Turkey. After the attempted coup in July 2016, the even-more rampant imprisonment of judges, lawyers and civil society actors constitutes a purge worthy of Stalin’s paranoia. And now, using Interpol’s Red Notice system to force those who have been able to leave back to Turkey, is one of the key weapons in Erdoğan’s arsenal. U.S. expert Ted Bromund has noted that, in 2017, Hürriyet Daily News cited BBC Turkish as reporting that Turkey had tried, sometime after the attempted coup to place 60,000 individuals on the Interpol wanted list with allegations that they were involved in the Gülenist movement.
Interpol seems to have given up any pretence of accountability and upholding of human rights in order to allow one of its most abusive member states the kudos and honour of hosting its General Assembly. The process of selecting Turkey is unclear and is similarly opaque to last year’s outcry over the prospect of the election of Russian Major-General Alexander Prokopchuk to be president of Interpol after the disappearance of former President Meng Hongwei.
Certainly other countries abuse Interpol’s Red Notice system as well. This is a very serious problem, and Interpol has been woefully inept at fixing it. In cases from Russia and Ukraine, I have seen business people targeted by rivals with political influence, and, in civil and arbitration litigation, Interpol Red Notices being issued by politically influential opponents as leverage in legal proceedings.
Another alarming development is from my own country, the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has just published proposed legislation in Parliament to allow direct arrest of individuals under an Interpol Red Notice rather than requiring judicial oversight to issue a warrant. Should the legislation be adopted (unlikely in the immediate term, given the elections called recently), it would create a system in which individuals could be arrested without any analysis by the courts of the legality of the proposed extradition, offering only a hearing at a later date. The ability to arrest on only the Red Notice could leave individuals remanded in prison for 45 days or more, while the full request arrives.
Such a prospect is chilling. An Interpol Red Notice does not contain much information – essentially identity and a brief description of the ostensible offense. It is the offense description that can easily mislead a judge – it could just say “fraud” and the total amount. But experience has taught us that fraud charges are the most common ones to fabricate against political opponents. In fact, Turkey wanted İpek, the publishing executive, extradited for exactly this.
Another of my cases illustrates the imperative for judicial review of Interpol extradition notices. My client was arrested by the Turkish Police for helping the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party, which is now considered a terrorist organization by several countries), although at the time it was not illegal to be a member. She was held at a black site, an unofficial detention facility regularly used to keep people unlawfully, where she was suspended from the ceiling and tortured.
She never told us the full details, but it is well-documented that torture is standard for political prisoners in Turkey. Sexual assault and rape are perpetrated by inmates while prison guards wait outside listening to the screams. Beating, electrocution and extreme violence also have been reported. Three days after her arrest, she was taken to a prison doctor, who wrote a one-line assessment: “There are no signs that this woman has been beaten.” Lies and obfuscation also are routine in Turkey’s years-long crackdown.
The client was released and came to the United Kingdom in early 2001. But years later, in 2012, Turkey tried to extradite her. Thankfully, a U.K. court refused.
Allowing Turkey to host the general assembly could be used by Interpol as an opportunity to rein in despotic regimes abusing the Red Notice system for political gain. Unfortunately, despite all the warnings and evidence, it seems Interpol is prepared to ignore the reality of Turkey’s repression and abuse to allow the country to continue as part of its inner circle. For Interpol to reform, there has to be greater transparency of decision-making. Those countries that routinely abuse the system and human rights should not be allowed to benefit from it until they treat the Interpol system with respect.