Thursday, April 25

4 Ways Autocrats Used Interpol to Harass Faraway Enemies

Interpol is the largest police organization in the world. It provides a powerful bulletin board that governments and law enforcement use to partner together to pursue fugitives around the world. At best, it helps track down killers and terrorists.

But it is also a new weapon for strongmen and autocrats in the hunt for political enemies, giving them the power to cross borders and seize their targets – even in democracies.

Here are some of the ways countries can leverage Interpol:

The Interpol Red Notice, the closest thing to an international arrest warrant, has long been controversial. An award-winning Venezuelan journalist has been arrested in Peru. An Egyptian asylum seeker has been arrested in Australia. And William F. Browder, a London-based human rights activist, has been the target of repeated arrests by Russia.

In response, Interpol has stepped up its surveillance, making it harder than ever to misuse red notices. But as it focused on cracking down on politically motivated abuse, other vulnerabilities remained.

Abril Meixueiro discovered a Red Notice had been issued against her for child abduction after she returned to Colorado from Mexico with her young daughter. She had just obtained full custody following a divorce from a man she described as violent and controlling.

The red notice, requested by Mexican police, allowed the man to pursue Ms. Meixueiro across borders. Interpol was not aware of a local police report concluding that she was “suffering serious violence”, nor of a restraining order issued by a judge against her ex-husband (who denies any wrongdoing) . He only knew that Mexico wanted him extradited for child kidnapping.

Interpol says it is investigating Ms Meixueiro’s “concerning” case and has removed her data from its systems. For now, she is not flying to avoid the risk of being flagged by the agency’s databases and sent back to Mexico. When she has to get to her office, which is in Miami, she drives for three days.

The number of blue notices – alerts seeking information about someone – has roughly doubled over the past decade. While Interpol now reviews each Red Notice before it is issued, it only reviews Blue Notices once they have been circulated. These a posteriori checks have made it possible to identify 700 alerts since 2018 which violated Interpol rules.

Lawyers say they are seeing more and more cases in which blue notices are used by countries seeking to circumvent the stricter controls of red notices.

Russia, for example, was able to issue a blue notice to a man seeking asylum in Florida. He claimed he was wanted for the assault and murder of a man who Russian court records showed was still alive.

One of the most difficult systems for Interpol to manage is its database of stolen and lost passports. Belarus and Turkey, for example, have turned Interpol’s database into a weapon to harass dissidents or block them abroad. The abuse of this tool has become so serious that Interpol has temporarily blocked Turkey from using it, and Belarus is now under special surveillance.

Such cases are more difficult to resolve than notices: Interpol does not have the power to reissue a passport if it has already been seized.

Other communications, such as direct messages – called broadcasts – between countries via Interpol systems are often not subject to review, but they can lead to arrest.

Red broadcasts, which request help from a specific country to make an arrest, are systematically monitored before being broadcast. But only an undetermined percentage of other broadcasts are examined.