The election to Interpol raises concerns about fair police rights

Human rights groups and Western lawmakers are warning that Interpol’s powerful network of global police could end up in the hands of authoritarian governments, when the World Police Department meets in Istanbul this week to elect new leadership.

Representatives of countries such as China and the United Arab Emirates are offering top positions in the France-based police force when its General Assembly meets in Turkey on Tuesday.

Interpol says it refuses to be used for political purposes. Critics argue that if these candidates win, instead of chasing drug traffickers, human traffickers, suspected war crimes and alleged extremists, their countries would use Interpol’s global reach to arrest dissidents in exile and even political opponents at home.

Two candidates have received particular criticism: Major General Ahmed Naser al-Raisi, Inspector General of the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of the Interior, who wants to be elected president of Interpol for a four-year term; and Hu Binchen, an official at China’s Ministry of Public Security, are expected to run for a seat on Interpol’s executive committee.

A vote is expected on Thursday. Interpol’s chairman and executive committee determine policy and direction. They also oversee the agency’s general secretary, who handles the day – to – day operations and is its external face. That position is filled by the German official Juergen Stock.

Al-Raisi is accused of torture and has criminal reports against him in five countries, including France, where Interpol is headquartered, and Turkey, where the election is taking place.

And Hu is backed by the Chinese government, which is suspected of using the global police force to chase dissidents into exile and to dissuade its citizens.

Appointing Hu can be dangerous – including, possibly, for himself. Meng Hongwei from China was elected president of Interpol in 2016, only to disappear on a return trip to China two years later. He is currently serving a 13-year prison sentence for corruption, accused of insisting and politically motivated that his wife Grace Meng, who now lives in France with her children under police protection, insisted in an interview with The Associated Press.

Al-Raisi, already a member of Interpol’s executive committee, claimed in a LinkedIn post on Saturday that the United Arab Emirates prioritizes “the protection of human rights at home and abroad.”

But a recent report from the MENA Rights Group describes routine violations of the UAE’s security system, in which lawyers, journalists and activists have been forcibly disappeared, tortured, arbitrarily imprisoned and intimidated for peacefully demanding fundamental rights and freedoms.

Matthew Hedges, a British doctoral student who was imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates for almost seven months in 2018 on charges of espionage, apparently fought at a press conference in Paris when he described torture and months of being held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer.

“I was given a cocktail of medicine … to change my mental state,” Hedges said. “I’m still addicted to most of this medicine now. I heard screams from other rooms, and there was evidence on the floor of torture, physical torture, assault.”

Hedges was pardoned by United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, but Emirati officials still insist that Hedges spied on Britain’s intelligence service MI6, without offering definitive evidence to support their claims. He, his family and British diplomats have repeatedly denied the allegations.

“There is no way that a country’s police force that is willing to do this against foreign nationals, let alone its own, should be given the honor of holding one of the highest positions at Interpol,” Hedges said.

“Choosing al-Raisi, the man responsible for what happened to me, would be a slap in the face to justice and a disgrace to other police forces that believe in upholding the rule of law.”

He and the British Ali Issa Ahmad, a football fan who says he was tortured by security agents from the United Arab Emirates during the Asia Cup 2019 football tournament, have filed a lawsuit against al-Raisi and other Emirati security officials in the UK. They also filed criminal reports in Norway, Sweden and France.

If French prosecutors decide to pursue the case, al-Raisi could be detained and questioned about alleged crimes committed in another country if he enters France or French territory.

Ahmad said he was attacked by plainclothes security agents from the United Arab Emirates during a match between Iraq and Qatar in Abu Dhabi. He wore a fan T-shirt with a Qatar flag at a time of bitter diplomatic dispute between Qatar and other Gulf countries.

He said agents attacked him on the beach, threw him in a car, handcuffed him and placed a plastic bag over his head. Using pocket knives, they carved the outlines of the Qatari flag on his chest as they cut the emblem from his T-shirt, he said. Ahmad was jailed for two weeks and released only after pleading guilty to “wasting police time.” Police say he was already injured when he presented himself at a police station in Sharjah.

Another allegation of torture under the principle of universal jurisdiction is pending in France against al-Raisi, which was filed in June for the alleged torture of prominent emirate human rights defender and blogger Ahmed Mansoor, who is currently serving a 10-year sentence for insulting the status and prestige of the United Arab Emirates and its leaders in social media posts.

A major concern for dissidents is the potential misuse of Interpol’s red message – equivalent to putting someone on a global “most wanted” list, which means a suspect can be arrested wherever they travel.

Interpol insists that each country’s request for a red message be verified for compliance with its constitution, “according to which it is strictly forbidden for the organization to take any intervention or activity of a political, military, religious or racist nature.” But critics say that Interpol has previously been used by its member governments for political purposes, and that this could get worse under new leadership.

Al-Raisi has run a smart campaign for the presidency, traveled the world to meet lawmakers and government officials, and boasts academic degrees from the UK and US and many years of police experience.

In an opinion piece for the government-run newspaper in Abu Dhabi, al-Raisi said he wanted to “modernize and transform” Interpol, based on “the role of the United Arab Emirates as a leader in technology-driven policing and a bridge-builder in the international community.”

The United Arab Emirates, especially the skyscraper-overgrown city-state of Dubai, has long been identified as an important hub for money laundering for both criminal and rogue nations. But in recent months, Emirati police have announced a series of busts targeting suspected international drug dealers and gangsters living there. Residents also note low reported levels of street crime and harassment, probably an effect of the fact that residence visas are all linked to employment.

Prominent French human rights lawyer William Bourdon said that United Arab Emirates officials could not hide behind a facade of modernity and progress.

“Behind the beaches and palm trees,” he said, “there are people, and they are screaming for torture.”

    Source: sn.dk


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