Fair Trials International group urges reforms for Interpol arrests

November 29, 2013

The case of a Russian environmental activist who fled the country but was later arrested, despite finding sanctuary in Finland, reveals how political motives can sometimes improperly influence international police work, a London-based group said this week.

The international police network in question is Interpol, which represents 190 member countries, including the United States, allowing them to issue international warrants or request information about suspects facing criminal charges at home.

Fair Trials International, an advocacy group for those arrested abroad, issued a report early Thursday asserting that the agency is used by some of its members — including Russia, Belarus, Turkey, Iran and Venezuela — to pursue political ends.

Pyotr Silaev, a 28-year-old Russian who took part in a protest in Moscow in July 2010 against the destruction of a forest in the suburb of Khimki, illustrates how Interpol can be wrongly used, according to Robert Jackman, a Fair Trials spokesman.

When police began arresting some of the demonstrators and accused Silaev of hooliganism, he fled to Finland, which accepted him as a political refugee.

Later, Silaev traveled to Spain and was arrested there on a Russian request issued through Interpol. He spent eight days in prison and six months stuck in Spain while fighting extradition to Russia. A Spanish court eventually refused to extradite him, ruling that his arrest was politically motivated. Fair Trials is trying to get his name stricken from the Interpol database.

When Moscow police wanted Interpol help to arrest William Browder, the investment banker who campaigned for the United States to punish Russia for human rights abuses, Browder quickly found a way to give the international agency his side of the story.

Interpol promptly declared the request to locate Browder — who fought for passage of the U.S. Magnitsky Act — politically motivated and deleted the entry from its database. Browder’s situation showed that individuals are shielded from abuse by Interpol, according to Ronald K. Noble, the agency’s head.

Fair Trials said that Browder got quick action because he had the kind of high profile and resources that allowed him to alert the media and marshal political support. Most people, Fair Trials said, are helpless if an Interpol member goes after them for a politically motivated arrest.

“Interpol tends to take countries’ arrest warrants at face value,” Jackman said in a telephone interview. “They don’t look at whether the person is already recognized by another country as a refugee.”

In another case, Ali Caglayan, an activist in Turkey who found refuge in Germany in 1995, was picked up in Poland last year and held for two weeks because of an arrest request Turkey made through Interpol.

In its report, Fair Trials called on Interpol to review preliminary notices before they are posted, saying that once information is in the database, member countries have no definitive way of learning that it has been removed. That results in arrests even after Interpol deletes names.

Fair Trials also urged Interpol to develop clearly defined procedures for appeals by listed individuals, more transparency about decisions regarding placement of names in the database and the right to appeal when requests to remove names from wanted lists are denied.

Responding to the report, Interpol officials in Lyon, France, said in a statement that they have the necessary systems in place to address politically motivated requests and to protect individual rights. “Any implication that ‘high profile’ cases receive special treatment by Interpol is wrong,” the statement said.

Billy Hawkes, chairman of the Commission for the Control of Interpol Files, which oversees Interpol, offered generally friendly comment about Fair Trials and its report, saying he supported many of the recommendations.

“Other recommendations in the report,” he said, “require further reflection.”

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