Turkey and several other repressive governments are increasingly abusing their membership in the Interpol to harass and punish their opponents. Interpol, or the International Criminal Police Organization, is composed of 194 countries and focuses on fighting transnational crimes.
Although Interpol’s charter forbids the pursuit of individuals for political, religious, military or racial reasons, several member states continue to abuse the power of the Interpol to pursue their opponents.
The most recent case is the Turkish government’s demand to Interpol to have Enes Kanter, an NBA basketball player of Turkish origin, arrested and extradited to Turkey by placing his name on Interpol’s Red Notice list. Kanter declined to join his team, the New York Knicks, on a trip to London for an NBA game. He said he was wrongly charged by the Erdogan government as a ‘terrorist’ and feared that he may be assassinated by Turkish agents in London.
On May 19, 2017, Abdullah Bozkurt wrote on the Turkish Minute website that Kanter “barely escaped arrest while in Jakarta, [Indonesia] where he stopped as part of a global goodwill tour. The Indonesian army and secret service raided a school where an event was planned in order to detain him at Turkey’s request, but he managed to leave Indonesia for Romania. On his return trip to the US, Kanter was detained on May 20 at Henri Coandă International Airport in Bucharest because his passport was reported to have been cancelled by the Turkish government. The NBA star was subsequently released after the US government and NBA officials intervened on his behalf. He remains a staunch critic of Erdogan for his rights violations.”
In a Washington Post op-ed column, Kanter wrote: “Anyone who speaks out against him [Erdogan] is a target. I am definitely a target. And Erdogan wants me back in Turkey where he can silence me.” Kanter told Newsweek that the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is “the Hitler of our century.” According to ESPN, the Turkish government requested Interpol last November to have more than 80 people arrested in other countries and extradited to Turkey!
Several other Turkish dissidents have barely escaped the Turkish government’s long reach through the Interpol. Last October, Turkey requested that the Interpol arrest and extradite Can Dündar, the former editor of Cumhuriyet newspaper, and Ilhan Tanir, editor of the Ahval news website. “I have not killed anyone, run a cartel, robbed a bank or done anything else to warrant a global manhunt,” Tanir wrote. “The Turkish government is pursuing me for my activities as a journalist.”
Ragip Zarakoglu, a journalist, author, publisher, and human rights defender, was placed on Interpol’s Red Notice list to be arrested and extradited to Turkey. He is currently in Sweden, safe from Erdogan’s clutches.
Another Turkish journalist was less fortunate. Hamza Yalçin, who had escaped to Sweden, was arrested at Turkey’s request to Interpol in 2017 during his visit to Spain. He was released after two months following pressure from the governments of Sweden and Germany.
“We welcome the Spanish government’s decision, which shows respect for international law,” Reporters Without Borders stated. “Hamza Yalçin’s release sends the Turkish government a clear message that Interpol should not be used for the political purpose of pursuing journalists who have fled abroad.”
Shortly after the failed coup in July 2016, Turkey made more than 60,000 Red Notice requests to Interpol. Red Notices are only for people accused of serious crimes, and Interpol’s constitution calls on countries not to use the system for political ends and to act within the spirit of international human rights standards. Turkey, China, Russia and the UAE are in blatant violation of these regulations, stated the Foreign Policy magazine.
In an April 2017 resolution, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called on Interpol “to continue improving its Red Notice procedure in order to prevent and redress abuses even more effectively.” Johann Bihr, the head of Reporters Without Borders’ Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, stated that “dozens of Turkish journalists have had to flee abroad since the coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016. But like other exile journalists all over the world, they are now threatened by political manipulation of Interpol. The reforms begun by Interpol must now be completed as a matter of urgency so that it is better able to guard against abusive requests from Turkey and other repressive states.”