Member Country Activity

It was with great dismay that I read this article . It seems that under the administration of Donald Trump, United States officials are now gathering intelligence on the public activity of journalists, bloggers, and other people that the administration considers to be influencers on matters of import to the Department of Homeland Security.

While obviously one hopes that this kind of activity is not for nefarious purposes, it’s not difficult to imagine that a president who has been so sensitive to criticism, as has Mr. Trump, could only be gathering this information for purposes of punishing, prosecuting, or targeting individuals who write information that is harmful to his ego, his policies, his desires, or simply his feelings.

Tyler Houlton, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, asserted in a tweet that the monitoring activity was simply standard procedure, and that any  suggestion otherwise was “fit for tin foil hat wearing, black helicopter conspiracy theorists.”

In other words, we’re crazy if we question this monitoring of the free press, despite the current political crackdown on journalists that we’ve seen around the world, particularly in Turkey, where the administration has utilized INTERPOL’s tools in the furtherance of its prosecution of journalists.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

 

 

 

A Turkish court has requested a Red Notice against reporter Can Dündar, the former chief editor of the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet. Authorities charged him with espionage in 2016, alleging that he disclosed state secrets in the course of his reporting.

As reported here, the Committee to Protect Journalists (“CPJ”) has criticized Turkey’s request as being politically motivated, and has also requested that INTERPOL deny the request.

The CPJ’s criticism comes at  a time when Turkey is on the defensive about many of its Red Notices and Red Notice requests, particularly those involving journalists being charged with terrorism, espionage, and similar charges based upon the content of their writings. INTERPOL is reportedly examining scores of Red Notices with the goal of weeding out politically motivated notices; this activity is being undertaken amidst the international community’s criticisim of Turkey’s recent INTERPOL abuses.

As INTERPOL’s efforts to investigate the subject notices were reportedly contemplated prior to November of 2017, it is reasonable to anticipate that significant progress should be made in advance of INTERPOL’s general assembly this year in Dubai from November 16-21.

And though it shouldn’t be necessary, it is also reasonable to expect that INTERPOL would make an unequivocal statement regarding its stance on the criminalization of responsible journalism, particularly in light of such activity in INTERPOL’s member countries such as Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

 

Let’s start with the specific good news: Fair Trials International obtained the removal of a Red Notice for current leader of the World Uyghur Congress, Dolkun Isa, who fled China in the 1990s and was pursued by Chinese authorities through INTERPOL for charges that were widely viewed as being politically motivated.

Mr. Isa, a dissident from China,  was wanted for alleged terrorist activities, as reported here.  The Chinese government naturally disagreed with the decision, expressing its dissatisfaction here.

It is always welcome news to find that a victim of a politically motivated prosecution has succeeded in removing a Red Notice – it means his life can normalize a bit. He can travel without the worry of an INTERPOL-related detention; his financial activity is simpler and less scrutinized; and he can search for work without having to explain that, even though he is wanted by INTERPOL, he is a law-abiding citizen.

The fact that Mr. Isa’s noticed originated from China, and that INTERPOL removed it, is also good news for those who have wondered about the effect of INTERPOL’s new president on the organization’s decision-making process. INTERPOL’ current president is China’s Vice Minister of Public Security Meng Hongwei. He entered his position amid public concern about his commitment to preserving INTERPOL’s commitment to human rights. The concerns were not baseless, given China’s human rights abuse record. However, as reported here, while some observers believed that his position was more ceremonial and less influential over Red Notice issuance, others thought that Mr. Hongwei’s presidency was cause for alarm, given China’s human rights history.

The decision in Mr. Isa’s case demonstrates that the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files has both the willingness and the autonomy to issue decisions contrary to the desire of the Chinese government, irrespective of the organization’s leadership.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

Under the leadership of its current Chairman,  Vitalie Pirlog, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (“CCF”) has proven in this year’s decisions that it is serious about holding National Central Bureaus to their obligations under INTERPOL’s rules.

In his speech at this year’s General Assembly, Chairman Pirlog reminded INTERPOL’s membership that the CCF often seeks information from their National Central Bureaus (“NCBs”). These responses are essential to the CCF’s ability to make decisions about requests for removal of Red Notices from the requesting country. Mr. Pirlog reminded member countries that timely responses were particularly important, given the CCF’s new statute that generally requires a response to be issued within four to nine months.

INTERPOL has always provided the required assistance to its members’ NCBs, but historically, the NCBs have not always been strictly observant of their duties to provided requested information, or to provide it timely. The CCF has apparently had enough of that, and is holding the members countries’ NCB’s feet to the fire.

Based on the CCF’s decision letters that have been received by this practitioner, it is clear that:

  • The CCF is generally adhering to the new time limitations for issuing decisions, with some decisions being issued even earlier than required;
  • The CCF is demanding cooperation from National Central Bureaus, and when they do not respond in a timely fashion, the CCF is proceeding to make a decision based on the information it has, rather than waiting or continuing the matter until the NCB provides a full response; and
  •  The decisions being issued by the CCF are generally accompanied by a reasoned explanation, detailing the Commission’s steps and considerations taken in reaching its decision.

These factors are critical to the CCF’s efforts at demonstrating transparency, and allow applicants to both appreciate the nature of the process, as well as to recognize that they were given a “fair shake” in INTERPOL’s processes. One would hope that the more lax NCBs recognize the shift in culture at the CCF, and become more compliant as a result. Whether they do or not, the CCF will benefit from the fact that it is protecting INTERPOL’s interests in transparency and the furtherance of human rights.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

Last month, a Swedish journalist of Turkish descent, Hamza Yalçin was finally released from detention in a Spanish jail awaiting an  extradition decision. Turkey has requested and received an INTERPOL Red Notice based upon an underlying charge of “terrorism” and insulting the Turkish president.

If he had been extradited, Mr. Yalçin would have faced over 22 years in prison for insulting the president of Turkey.  The journalist reportedly received asylum from Sweden many years ago based on his previous political activity in Turkey.   The facts that Mr.  Yalçin is a journalist and that he is an asylee from Turkey both render the Red Notice against him rather curious: INTERPOL has a policy in place that was enacted for the purpose of protecting asylees from further political persecution by the countries from which they fled, and notices against journalists are often requested based on their criticism of the requesting regime.

This is not the first time that Turkey has utilized its access to INTERPOL’s tools to aid in the prosecution of a journalist.  Earlier this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted that Germany has had to modify its policies in dealing with Turkey, and that such abuses against journalists and critics cannot be tolerated.

Yalçin was released late last month, but not because the Red Notice was dropped: he reportedly was released because Spanish law did not allow for the extradition of  an asylee.

INTERPOL has an opportunity to highlight its commitment to human rights by subjecting Turkish Red Notice requests to additional scrutiny before issuing them, particularly where the subject is an author or journalist.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

We continue to receive reports, like this one, of individuals who are wanted in the United Arab Emirates or other areas in the Middle East, for bounced security checks. I addressed the basics of this issue in a previous post, here.  At the time, it appeared that efforts to bring this matter to the forefront, led by multiple attorneys such as Radha Stirling and those at Fair Trials International, would lead to a resolution of these types of notices. While we have all had success in handling the Red Notices stemming from bounced security checks, here we are several years later with this issue is still lingering, causing incredible hardships for the subjects of the Red Notices.

The use of security checks in the Middle East

In many countries in the Middle East, where established credit verification mechanisms are still in development or are not widely used in the same manner as other parts of the world, financial institutions require the individual seeking the mortgage loan to execute an undated security check in the full amount of the mortgage. It is understood by all parties that the borrower does not have the full amount of the check in the bank.  If the mortgage payment is missed, the financial institution will deposit the check, which will “bounce,” or be returned for insufficient funds, and the institution will then foreclose on the property.

However, it also eventually became the practice of many financial institutions in the Middle East to also refer the check to the local police for criminal prosecution, despite the lack of evidence of any fraudulent or criminal intent. The property is then reverted back to the financial institution’s possession. If the borrower is not in the country, a Red Notice is often requested to aid in criminal prosecution.

As a result of this practice, many foreign nationals who are relocated by their employers, or who are forced to leave the country when they lose their jobs, and thus their legal status, find themselves in the situation where they no longer have the income that allowed them to qualify for the mortgage loan, and can no longer legally live or work in the country, but are being pursued for criminal charges that they have no way of resolving.

Request to INTERPOL for a policy statement

Earlier this month, I made a request for a policy statement on this issue to INTERPOL. The request was acknowledged and we now await the statement. It is important that INTERPOL issue a public statement regarding its stance on this issue, lest private financial institutions continue utilizing even the threat of INTERPOL involvement in cases where such involvement is improper.

It is critical for both INTERPOL and its member countries that INTERPOL’s tools not be used for improperly based charges, and that INTERPOL be utilized as an effective law enforcment organization, rather than a debt collection agency for certain member countries.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

INTERPOL’s website contains a search page for wanted persons. A reader recently sent in a commonly posed question about those notices:

I have a query regarding Red Notices. If the information about a person against whom a red notice has been issued is no longer published on INTERPOL’s public website, does that mean that the red notice no longer exits? Also, is there any way of knowing the status of such a red notice?

When a notice that was once shown on INTERPOL’s website no longer appears there, it could be for several reasons:

  • The notice has been withdrawn by the member country that originally requested it.
  • The member country has requested that the notice remain active, but no longer be published on the website.
  • The CCF has taken the case under consideration and INTERPOL has removed the notice while the matter is pending.
  • The notice has been removed.

Under some circumstances, but not all, INTERPOL will explain the reason that the notice no longer appears. The CCF will always send a letter in response to a request for information, but only when the request meets the CCF’s criteria for a substantive response will one be given.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

As the year begins, and changes appear to be coming to both INTERPOL and the CCF,* Red Notice Law Journal reviews some highlights from the CCF’s activity in 2016.

Second case study: Americas-based client with Red Notice from north African country

In this case, our client had visited a country in the north of Africa on vacation as a young adult.  While vacationing, he was arrested for possessing a small amount of marijuana. He paid a fine and his passport was returned to him and he returned home as planned.

Many years later, he learned that he had been charged, tried, and sentenced in absentia (in his absence) to serve a lenghty prison term for a very different charge: trafficking in drugs, not just possession of a small quantity. He was shocked, because he had never been notified of the charges, the trial, or the sentence, and only learned of the Red Notice on the case when he attempted to travel.

We challenged the Red Notice on multiple grounds, including a new one for us: the requesting country violated its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR). The CCF ultimately recommended the removal of this Red Notice based primarily on two of the grounds that we raised: first, it found that the requesting country violated our client’s due process rights, and second, it violated its obligations under the VCCR. The CCF’s recommendation was accepted, and the notice was removed.

Our client had attempted to resolve this matter for years before coming to us for help, and had been told be other counsel that Red Notice removal simply was not possible. He was greatly relieved to learn first-hand that it was, indeed possible.

* These changes will be addressed in the coming posts.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

 

Yesterday, I was fortunate to attend the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s briefing on the issue of allegations of INTERPOL Red Notice abuse.  The panelists included:

Rebecca Shaeffer, Senior Legal and Policy Officer, Fair Trials
Leonard A. Homeniuk, former President and CEO, Centerra Gold Inc.
William Browder, author of Red Notice and head of the Global Justice Campaign for Sergei Magnitsky
Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, President, Lantos Foundation for Human Rights
Moderator: Liana W. Rosen, Specialist in International Crime and Narcotics, CRS

The event was hosted and attended by Representative James P. McGovern. Mr. Homeniuk and Mr. Browder described their respective experiences with INTERPOL, and the profound effect that an invalid Red Notice request can have on the lives of their subjects.  Mr. Homeniuk’s story is here, and Mr. Browder’s story is here. Their cases are unusual only in that they both had the resources to fight their cases, which they both recognize is extremely unusual for most Red Notice subjects.  They were both so impacted by their experiences that they have dedicated time and even more resources to advocate for INTERPOL reform.

It appears to be widely agreed that, if the United States is going to take a role in INTERPOL reform, the U.S., as one of the largest financial contributors to INTERPOL, must tie its funding of INTERPOL to specific reform actions. It also appears to be widely agreed that INTERPOL has got to stop treating all of its member countries as equals, because they are not.  Some of them follow the rule of law, but many others disregard the law completely in applying for Red Notices.  National Central Bureaus have to be accountable, not just in theory, but in reality.  The panelists referred to the fact that INTERPOL’s rules allow for National Central Bureaus to be sanctioned for rules violations, but whether such sanctions occur is unknown to the public. It was recognized that INTERPOL has taken some steps toward reform, but much more is needed before the organization can meet its stated goal of protecting human rights.

Congratulations to Representative McGovern for getting this conversation started. It will be interesting to see how he and other members of Congress move forward on this issue.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

One of my favorite adages is one that defense attorneys use in closing arguments when the government’s case contains some evidence of guilt, and some evidence of illegal police conduct:

If a waiter in a restaurant brings you soup with a cockroach in it, you don’t eat around the cockroach- you send the whole bowl back to the kitchen because all of the soup is tainted.

I am reminded of this story when I think about China’s Skynet investigation, the subject of a report here.

China has escalated extradition efforts in furtherance of its anti-corruption endeavor, named Skynet, and is seeking the assistance of other countries and INTERPOL, through the use of Red Notices, to find and bring home government officials who left the country and allegedly committed financial crimes.

Of course, often times when we see a massive anti-corruption drive, we also see an accompanying slew of human rights violations.  It appears from the article cited above that China’s Skynet is no exception. From the article, some detail is provided about the tactics China uses to encourage people to return to China to face their charges:

Over 40 percent of the 738 fugitives who returned to China in 2015 were “persuaded” to come back rather than forcibly repatriated, according to the CCDI. Fugitives’ family members sometimes played a role in these “persuasion efforts”, Li Gongjing, a Shanghai police officer, said in an interview with Xinmin Weekly magazine.
“It’s very effective. A suspect is like a kite. Although he is in a foreign country, his line is in China and we can find him through his relatives,” Li said.

“Finding” a suspect is different from “persuading” her to return. In almost every case I have seen where an improperly Red Notice is requested against a subject who has family members in the requesting country, government officials’ “persuasion” efforts have not included polite letters or requests. Rather, they have included the use of physical force and intimidation, seizure of legally owned assets, threats to have family members fired from their jobs, revocation of professional licenses and permits, and the like.  And this is all before the subject is returned to the requesting country- it’s not a stretch to imagine that such a country will commit further human rights and legal violations if she did return.

China has a long-standing history of violating human rights in the name of maintaining law and order.  For this reason, some countries, including the United States, have not agreed to an extradition treaty with China.  Recent evidence  illustrates that China continues its pattern of human rights violations: it has ignored the international amnesty status of individuals in order to re-patriate them, and has also engaged in disappearing individuals who have spoken against the government.

So, back to the soup.  Before INTERPOL can legitimately become involved with China’s anti-corruption prosecutions, China should be required to show substantive and documented reform in the area of human rights and due process rights.  Until then, the whole bowl of Skynet soup is tainted and should be returned to the kitchen.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.