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  • Red Notice Monitor

Political Persecution: Exploiting Interpol's Database and Blue Notices for Authoritarian Agendas

Photo via Unsplash: Blake Guidry

In an era where the global landscape is increasingly digital, the misuse of international law enforcement tools by authoritarian regimes to pursue political dissidents abroad marks a concerning trend. A recent report by the New York Times highlights a worrying shift in tactics by countries such as Turkey and Belarus, which have been accused of repurposing Interpol's databases to harass and impede the movement of political opponents living outside their borders.

The focus of these actions is on the Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database and the issuance of Blue Notices, which, rather than being used to combat crime and ensure public safety, have been weaponized for political persecution. Legal experts across the United States and Europe have reported a noticeable uptick in such cases, signalling a broad and disturbing misuse of these systems.

A poignant case involves a father of two, a follower of Fethullah Gulen, who found himself stranded and separated from his family for over a year after Turkey reported his passport as lost or stolen while he was in Germany. Despite having lived outside Turkey for two decades and having no criminal record, he was targeted solely because of his association with Gulenist schools.

Another distressing example is that of a Turkish lawyer, a member of the Istanbul Bar and associated with the Gulen Movement, who fled Turkey in 2022 to avoid imprisonment amid widespread prosecutions. His journey to safety was obstructed when Turkey invalidated his passport via the Interpol SLTD database, a tactic increasingly employed to hinder dissidents' mobility. Despite his efforts to have his passport removed from the database and secure asylum, bureaucratic delays and unanswered inquiries left him stranded in Brazil for months, facing constant threats of deportation. Although Interpol’s rules stipulate that a deletion request shall be finalised within 9 months of being found admissible, his application has been pending for 20 months.

These narratives reveal the widespread impact of passport cancellations affecting hundreds of thousands of individuals targeted by the Turkish government, illustrating the severe repercussions of abusing Interpol's mechanisms and the challenges victims face in seeking justice and freedom.

Ali Yildiz, commenting on the situation, criticized the inefficacy of Interpol's Commission for the Control of Files (CCF), pointing out the lack of timely remedies and the insufficient attention to the misuse of the SLTD database. His words encapsulate the frustration and helplessness of many who find themselves caught in a web of political persecution disguised as law enforcement.

In response to these abuses, an open letter coordinated by Red Notice Monitor editor Ben Keith, acting on behalf of The Arrested Lawyers Initiative, and co-signed by a diverse group of individuals and NGOs, including Members of the European Parliament, prominent lawyers, and academics, was addressed to the Secretary-General of Interpol. The letter demands decisive actions against Turkey, including the suspension of its access to Interpol databases, until proper checks are put in place to prevent misuse.

These calls for action are grounded in the principles of the Interpol Constitution, which mandates adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), specifically the rights related to freedom of movement and the right to leave one's own country.

The exploitation of Interpol's databases for political vendettas not only undermines the integrity of international law enforcement cooperation but also violates fundamental human rights. The stories of individuals caught in this crossfire, struggling to rebuild their lives in foreign lands while battling legal uncertainties, serve as a sobering reminder of the human cost of such misuse. As the international community grapples with these issues, the imperative to uphold the rule of law and protect the rights of political dissidents becomes increasingly evident. The ongoing dialogue, spurred by investigative reporting and advocacy, may hopefully lead to more robust safeguards against the abuse of international law enforcement tools, ensuring that they serve their intended purpose of promoting global security and justice, rather than becoming instruments of political repression.


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