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Guest Blog by Ali Yildiz: Turkey's 800 Political Interpol Red Notices for alleged Gülenists

Interpol is one of the most important international organisations in the fight against cross-border crime. According to Interpol’s constitution, the organisation must act in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and is forbidden from undertaking any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character. The difficulty is that the organisation has several member states that do not respect human rights and misuse Interpol’s tools to hunt down their critics abroad. Turkey is one of the emerging Interpol abusers since 2016.

Turkey continues to prosecute Gülenists under Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code which stipulates membership in an armed terrorist organisation. Gülenists refer to the members of the Gülen Movement which is, according to the UK Home Office, a term used to describe a worldwide cultural and educational initiative which is rooted in the values of Islam and inspired by Mr Fethullah Gülen. The Turkish government accuses the Movement of being behind the coup attempt of 2016 and designated it as a terrorist organisation. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity. Turkey has been abusing extradition processes and Interpol mechanisms to repatriate those who are perceived as members of the Gülen Movement living abroad.

A recent report by Barrister and co-editor of RedNoticeMonitor, Ben Keith, and Turkish-Belgian attorney, Ali Yildiz, states:

“According to the latest figures published by the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency, the Turkish government has so far sent 1,022 official extradition requests for perceived Gülenists to 109 countries. Of those, 202 were sent to the United States and 361 to European Union countries.”

In addition to extradition requests, Turkey has sent more than 800 politically motivated Red Notice requests for individuals identified as Gülenists. In many cases Turkey has deployed a new and more devious practice of reporting suspected Gülenists’ passports as stolen/lost/invalid to have them arrested and deported to Turkey without any formal extradition process. Turkey may be moving towards these more covert means of persecuting Gülenists following a string of failed extradition attempts where Turkey failed to satisfy the dual criminality test.

A majority of countries do not regard Gülenists as members of a terrorist group and the London Advocacy report includes several examples of Turkish extradition requests failing on this point:

“In 2020 a Spanish court dismissed an extradition request for a Gülenist who was accused of membership in a terrorist organization for participating in religious gatherings where he read the Holy Quran and other religious books. In the trial, the Spanish prosecutor and the court affirmed that the European Union did not accept the Gülen movement as a criminal or terrorist group. The court also said, ‘The facts whose commission is attributed to the defendant by the state requesting extradition lack any criminal relevance or entity under our criminal legislation; they cannot be subsumed in any type of crime established in our egal system.’ Speaking to Turkish Minute, Spanish lawyer and professor of human rights Gonzalo Boye, who represented the accused, said: ‘The court rebuffed the extradition request for several reasons, including the failure to satisfy the condition of dual criminality and the fact that the EU and Spain do not accept the existence of a terrorist organization called FETÖ/PDY.’”

The UN Human Rights Committee has found that Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code and its current application by Turkish Courts is in breach of Article 15§1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UNHRC opinion was published on 15 November 2022[1].

Article 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed.

The Committee found that the prison conditions the applicant is being kept in are in breach of Article 10§1 of the ICCPR.

Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

In 2017 the UN Committee Against Torture found that the extradition of three Turkish nationals from Morocco to Turkey would constitute a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment[2]. As perceived members of the Gülen Movement they faced a risk of torture and persecution in Turkey.

Article 3 of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment:

No State Party shall expel, return or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

In addition, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has delivered at least 18 opinions in which it found the detention of Gulenist complainants constituted a ‘Category V’ violation, that is, arbitrary detention on the basis of their political or other opinions. In two of the most recent cases, WGAD stated:

“The Working Group notes that the present case is the most recent concerning individuals with alleged links to … (the Hizmet Movement) that have come before the Working Group in the past three years. In all these cases, the Working Group has found that the detention of the individuals concerned was arbitrary. It notes a pattern of targeting those with alleged links to the … (the Hizmet Movement) on the discriminatory basis of their political or other opinions. … A pattern is emerging whereby those with alleged links to the Hizmet Movement are being targeted on the basis of their political or other opinions, in violation of Article 26 of the Covenant. … The Working Group expresses its concern over the pattern that all these cases follow and recalls that, under certain circumstances, widespread or systematic imprisonment, or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of the rules of international law, may constitute crimes against humanity.”[3]

There are several cases in which members of the Gülen Movement were stopped at passport control during international travel and their passports seized because their passports had been unduly registered as stolen/lost/invalid/invoked on the Interpol database. In these cases, the targeted individual may be deported or extradited to Turkey where they are arbitrarily detained and often tortured, other times the individual is classified as a refugee because they no longer have a valid travel document.

As a Turkish-Belgian lawyer specialising in Interpol and extradition cases, I have represented countless individuals who have been persecuted by Turkey for their perceived political opinions via the Interpol Red Notice mechanism. It is imperative that Interpol complies with its own rules by not ignoring the decisions and findings of international human rights bodies such as the UN. In particular, Interpol should take into consideration the UN bodies’ decisions when considering whether or not to issue Turkey’s Red Notice requests, as it is required to do prior to dissemination of any notice on the Interpol database.

Ali Yildiz is a lawyer from Turkey who held office in Ankara. In 2016 he established the Arrested Lawyers Initiative with the aim of protecting colleague lawyers from Turkey who are facing threats, arrests and prosecution.



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