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[ANALYSIS] Turkey’s abuse of INTERPOL Red Notices: Findings in the CCF activity report

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Ahmet Eren*

The Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF), an independent auditing body, has released its 2019-2020 Activity Report.

Consisting of seven legal and data protection experts, the CCF, whose decisions are binding on the INTERPOL General Secretariat, is a commission that checks whether the data entries processed in the INTERPOL Information System (IIS) comply with the INTERPOL Constitution and other international regulations. The commission, with its newly elected seven members, carries out the duties specified in its statute with its two chambers – the Supervisory and Advisory Chamber, and the Request Chamber.

Although 2019-2020 was a period when the COVID-19 epidemic effectively dominated the world and also affected the CCF, the members of the commission met eight times in 2019 and 2020, either in person or online, and successfully carried out their work.

In the CCF’s 2019-2020 Activity Report, general information and statistics on the issues handled by the CCF are given, but the countries that abuse the INTERPOL mechanism have not been mentioned by name, as was the case in previous years. However, European institutions and politicians often state that Russia, Turkey, China and Iran are among the countries that abuse INTERPOL the most. Turkey in particular has been criticized by European leaders for its abuse of INTERPOL in recent years and has been the subject of international news site reports.

Let’s first look at the findings regarding the abuse of notices in the CCF report, and then give just two examples of how Red Notices are abused by Turkey.

 The issues highlighted in Article 25 of the report are as follows:

  • In the context of the processing of requests, the commission has systematically taken into account the summary of facts (where available) and the description of the individual involvement of the wanted person in the criminal acts of which he/she was accused. This was particularly true when there were several co-accused or co-defendants.
  • The commission, therefore, decided to conduct spot checks on this matter and identified a significant number of Red Notices and Diffusions that could raise concerns for their lack of a description individualizing criminal involvement.
  • There was a lack of a clear description of the criminal activities;
  • Proceedings did not respect fundamental human rights;
  • The cases were of a predominant political character (Article 3 of INTERPOL’s Constitution and Article 34 of the Rules on Processing of Data [RPD]); or
  • The cases failed to comply with national or regional laws (Article 11 of the RPD).

The commission also stated that it shared its findings and recommendations with the General Secretariat, which replied with the actions taken concerning the data flagged by the commission.

As a result, the CCF revealed that the General Secretariat deleted some data after National Central Bureaus (NCBs), which are sources of the data, failed to provide sufficient additional information that individualized the alleged involvement of wanted persons, and pending further study of the case, the General Secretariat blocked access by INTERPOL member countries to some data. The commission pointed out that it welcomed the General Secretariat’s cooperation, which provided a detailed and clear explanation concerning its own procedures and criteria to review the compliance of data with the rules.

Red Notice requests from Turkey

Selçuk Sevgel, the current head of NCB/Turkey who was elected as one of the Executive Committee members during the INTERPOL General Assembly held in Turkey in 2021, gave an interview on Dec. 2, 2021 to the Anadolu news agency, a state-owned outlet that is often described as a propaganda machine for the Turkish government, and said that after a July 15, 2016 coup attempt, 839 Red Notice requests for members of the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization” (FETO) were rejected by INTERPOL. He added that INTERPOL cited Article 3 of its constitution as the reason for its refusal and that “FETO” was not recognized as a terrorist organization by the EU or the UN.

Indeed, after the July 2016 attempted coup, which some security experts refer to as a “plot,” Turkey sent a large number of Red Notice requests to INTERPOL based on unfounded accusations against its political opponents. The Red Notice requests were not for the military officers who participated in the so-called military coup attempt, but rather for members of the Gülen movement, which Erdoğan and his government hold responsible for the (so-called) coup attempt and call “FETO.” Nearly 2 million people who were allegedly either members of the movement or affiliated with it were investigated on the allegation of “terrorism” as their legal activities in the past were retroactively considered a crime by the pro-Erdoğan judiciary.

Turkey makes its Red Notice requests either by presenting fabricated evidence against its political opponents based on so-called terrorist crimes or by accusing its political opponents of committing “ordinary crimes” because they know they won’t be able to catch them for terrorist crimes.

Turkey has also repeatedly made or attempted to make false entries into INTERPOL databases in order to put dissidents in a difficult position by adding a “lost” or “stolen” annotation to their passports. This topic will be discussed in another article.

Thanks to INTERPOL’s (and CCF’s) scrutiny, most of the requests were rejected by the INTERPOL General Secretariat on the grounds that they lacked persuasive evidence and were politically motivated and therefore did not comply with binding INTERPOL regulations.

 Examples of the abuse of Red Notices

As Sevgel stated, after the coup attempt, 839 Red Notice requests were sent to INTERPOL by Turkey, and all of them were rejected for the above-mentioned reasons. It is possible to illustrate Turkey’s attempts to abuse the Red Notice system with many examples, but let’s just give a few of the recent incidents.

Selahaddin Gülen, a relative of Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement bearing his name and has resided in the US since 1999, was investigated for an ordinary crime he allegedly committed in Turkey in 2008, and his case resulted in a decision of non-prosecution. In 2013, following corruption and bribery investigations into several government ministers and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s family members and his inner circle, Selahaddin Gülen’s file was reopened because of his affiliation with the above-mentioned movement. He then went to the United States, fearing arbitrary detention and systematic torture.

Unable to capture Selahaddin Gülen, Turkey sent the reopened criminal file to INTERPOL and ensured the issuance of a Red Notice for him in 2018. Selahaddin Gülen, who was traveling from the US to Kenya, was detained at an airport in Kenya due to the Red Notice issued on the basis of an ordinary crime, and extradition proceedings were initiated. The Kenyan court released him on the condition that he sign in at a police station on specified days and pay his bail. On May 3, 2021 he was abducted by unidentified people and brought to Ankara on a private plane with tail number T7-RMH departing from Kenya on May 5, 2021. One day after he was transported to Turkey, on May 6, 2021, the Kenyan court rejected the request for Selahaddin Gülen’s extradition.

On May 31, 2021 Daily Sabah, a pro-government newspaper, announced that Selahaddin Gülen had been captured by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and brought to Turkey. He was handed over to the police by MIT the same day. He was arrested on charges of leading an armed terrorist organization and for the sexual harassment case that was closed for non-prosecution in 2008.

Briefly stated, Selahaddin Gülen, for whom a Red Notice was issued within the scope of a “common crime,” was caught in Kenya. He was abducted by MIT and brought to Turkey before the Kenyan authorities had made a decision on extradition and was arrested on “terrorism’” charges.

Murat Acar, a then-46-year-old Harvard graduate and medical doctor who was serving as a professor and consultant in the radiology department of King Hamad University in Bahrain, was detained by the Bahraini police and extradited to Turkey based on a Red Notice issued at Turkey’s request. Suspecting that Erdoğan’s administration in Turkey might target him on the pretext of the dubious military coup attempt, Acar sought help from the UN and was granted humanitarian protection status. Although he was under UN protection, his house was raided by Bahraini police and he was taken to Turkey. After being extradited to Turkey, Acar was subjected to torture and ill-treatment for 18 days, after which he was arrested and put in prison.

Considering the rejection of 839 Red Notice requests by the INTERPOL General Secretariat, it is clear that Turkey is one of the countries that abuse the INTERPOL mechanism the most.

*S. Ahmet Eren was assistant director of the INTERPOL General Secretariat from 2009 to 2014.

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