Turkey plans to use INTERPOL event to mislead international community, US senator says

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A US senator has said the Turkish government plans to use the upcoming INTERPOL General Assembly in Istanbul to lie to and mislead the international community, according to a press release from the senator’s office.

US Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi and ranking member on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, spoke on the Senate floor on Wednesday, talking about how authoritarian regimes, Turkey in particular, have been abusing the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL).

Noting that the annual INTERPOL General Assembly will be held this weekend in İstanbul, Senator Wicker indicated that this is a stark reminder of how “despots and crooks” use the organization to punish dissidents and undermine the rule of law.

“It’s egregious that INTERPOL chose to host this year’s General Assembly in Turkey,” he said, maintaining that Turkey “has become one of the worst abusers of INTERPOL’s Red Notice and Blue Notice systems.”

“Turkey has repeatedly weaponized INTERPOL to persecute and arrest government critics on politically motivated charges. Journalist Can Dundar is a prime example,” he added. “In 2018, Turkey demanded that INTERPOL issue a red notice for Mr. Dundar’s arrest. What had he done? He simply criticized his government.”

Dündar was arrested and jailed for 92 days for reporting on the interception of Syria-bound trucks allegedly belonging to Turkish intelligence. He was arrested on Nov. 26, 2015 and released on Feb. 26, 2016 following a Constitutional Court decision.

The Turkish government claimed the trucks were carrying humanitarian aid to Turkmens in war-torn Syria and that the search was ordered by followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group labeled as a terrorist organization by Ankara, in the judicial and security institutions.

“Turkish media reported that INTERPOL had rejected nearly 800 red notices sent by the Turkish government,” the senator said, stressing that these notifications targeted the “critics and political opponents of the government.”

Wicker pointed out that Turkey plans to use this year’s General Assembly to promote its own authoritarian goals.

“Turkey plans to use this high level event to mislead and lie to the international community. They will no doubt try to explain why President Erdogan should be able to hunt down his critics in foreign countries using foreign law enforcement through INTERPOL,” he said.

Calling on the Senate not to allow these abuses to go on, Wicker said he had introduced the Transnational Repression, Accountability and Prevention Act, or TRAP Act, in May as as a potential major tool in combatting abuse of the organization.

Turkey on November 5 granted a series of privileges to INTERPOL staff attending the meeting of the GA, including diplomatic immunity for the attendees and their families and tax exemption for gifts and materials associated with the meeting during their stay.

Critics claim Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is trying to bribe INTERPOL officials to pursue his political opponents abroad.

According to a report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom, the Turkish government, under President Erdoğan, has used the International Notice System, such as Red Notices and diffusions, to target political opponents who have done nothing more than criticize the government.

Similarly, it has also abused INTERPOL’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents Database by filing tens of thousands of notifications for critics and opponents who, in many instances, were not even aware that their passports had been invalidated. In several cases, some of these people were stranded at international airports or put in detention before they were released or, in the worst cases, were handed over to Turkish operatives and ended up in Turkish prisons.

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