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The Global Challenge of Transnational Repression: Serbian Extradition to Belarus via Interpol Red Notice


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The recent Serbian extradition case of a Belarusian activist, who has been opposing the Lukashenko regime, underscores the urgency of addressing transnational repression and violent crackdowns of dissent by authoritarian regimes from a global, rights-centered perspective.


In 2020, Belarus, which has been labelled “the last dictatorship in Europe”, witnessed an unprecedented series of protests triggered by the controversial 9th August re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko. With both domestic and international allegations of widespread voter fraud and election rigging, tens of thousands took to the streets of Minsk to demand Lukashenko's resignation, Belarus’ only president since 1994.  


Opposition candidate Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya, who entered the race against Lukashenko as a presidential candidate, after her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, was arrested alongside most other opposition leaders, disputed the official results and claimed victory based on exit polls. Shortly after the election, Tikhanovskaya was held by authorities and forced into exile in Lithuania due to threats to her and her children’s safety. Among other opposition leaders, Viktar Babaryka was arrested on fabricated tax evasion, money laundering, and bribery charges two months before the election.[1] 


While the protests were largely peaceful, bringing together a broad cross-section of Belarusian society, demanding fair elections, an end to police brutality and to the Lukashenko regime, the Belarusian government responded with a widespread, brutal crackdown on dissent employing riot police and special forces. Thousands of protesters were arrested, and there were numerous reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees. According to HRW, over four protesters died as a result of police brutality.[2] 


“Former detainees described beatings, prolonged stress positions, electric shocks, and in at least one case, rape. Some had serious injuries, including broken bones, skin wounds, electrical burns, or mild traumatic brain injuries. Detainees said that police, riot police, and special forces picked them up off the streets, in some cases using extreme violence, then beat them in dangerously confined spaces in vehicles where they struggled to breathe. Some detainees alleged riot police officers threatened them with rape, in most cases while they were in transit.” [3]


Although Lukashenko’s re-election was condemned by the US and the EU, he remains in power and intends to run in the 2025 election.[4] Since 2020, his government has increasingly targeted Belarusians abroad.


A recent report by Human Rights Watch on transnational repression highlights the role of Interpol in facilitating this form of oppression.


The report examines governments' efforts to stifle dissent beyond their borders, perpetrating human rights abuses against their citizens or former nationals, in particular targeting human rights defenders, journalists, civil society activists, and political opponents who are deemed to be a security threat.


From targeted killings to unlawful removals and digital surveillance, transnational repression takes various forms.  Extradition requests and the issuance of Red Notices through Interpol on often spurious and politically motivated charges are preferred tools of transnational repression by authoritarian regimes, as widely documented on this blog.


In October 2023, Andrey Gnyot, a Belarusian citizen, was arrested in Serbia on the basis of an Interpol Red Notice issued at Belarus' behest. Gnyot, accused of tax evasion by Belarus, faces the looming threat of extradition back to his homeland, where he fears persecution and torture due to his activism against the Lukashenko regime. His case sheds light on the broader crackdown on dissent in Belarus, where the Viasna Human Rights Centre reported over 1,500 detentions on politically motivated charges since 2020.[5]


After the 2020 protests, more than 500 criminal cases against runners in the presidential elections, their campaigns’ team members, protestors, businessmen and staff of companies that supported opposition presidential candidates were launched by the Belarusian authorities. Charges ranged from mass rioting, and tax evasion to fraud.


Despite calls from human rights organizations and UN experts urging Serbia to refrain from extraditing Gnyot, the enduring alliance between Serbia and Belarus complicates the situation. While Serbia has occasionally aligned with EU stances against Belarusian human rights violations, its bilateral relations with Belarus cloud the extradition proceedings.


Gnyot's case exemplifies the risks faced by individuals caught in the crossfire of transnational repression, where political motivations undermine legal considerations. Gnyot’s lawyer emphasizes the political nature of the accusations against Gnyot, stressing that they are aimed at silencing dissent rather than upholding justice. In light of the documented abuse of political prisoners in Belarusian custody, Gnyot’s potential extradition to Belarus not only jeopardizes his safety but also undermines international efforts to hold authoritarian regimes accountable for human rights abuses.


While Interpol’s constitution technically prohibits the use of politically motivated Red Notices, authoritarian governments regularly target dissidents abroad which underscores the need for greater scrutiny and accountability within international law enforcement. As highlighted by Human Rights Watch, transnational repression poses a grave threat to fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and association. Governments must recognize such abuses as a threat to human rights globally and take concrete actions to protect those at risk.


In the case of Gnyot, Serbia's decision on extradition will have far-reaching implications for the treatment of political dissidents and the legitimacy and impartiality of international legal mechanisms, including Interpol. The case raises critical questions about Interpol’s role and the ethical implications of global law enforcement cooperation, highlighting the intricate dynamics of international law, politics, and human rights advocacy. It serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing struggle for human rights in the face of political oppression. International efforts to address the root causes of transnational repression must be strengthened to hold governments accountable for their actions.



Sources:

[4] Al Jazeera, ‘As Belarusians vote in ‘sham’ polls, Lukashenko reveals re-election plan’, 25 February 2024, available at https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/2/25/as-belarusians-vote-in-sham-polls-lukashenko-reveals-re-election-plan

[5] BNN Breaking, 'Serbian Extradition Case Highlights Belarus' Political Crackdown and Interpol's Role', 1 March 2024, available at https://bnnbreaking.com/breaking-news/human/serbian-extradition-case-highlights-belarus-political-crackdown-and-interpols-role

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