Red Notices, the requests made to governments through Interpol for the location, arrest and extradition of named individuals, were in the news this November. Ukrainian born Alexandr Prokopchuk, a Major-General in the Russian police who had led the Russian National Central Bureau of Interpol (MIA) since 2011, failed to get the top job as President of the international police organisation. During Prokopchuk’s time as leader of Interpol’s Russian office, Russia was a profligate user of Red Notices, targeting for example Bill Browder and other opponents of President Putin.
Prokopchuk studied Romance and Germanic languages and literature. So the selection committee were not worried about his talents as a linguist when they appointed a South Korean, Kim Jong Yang, Interpol Vice-President for Asia, as the new international chief.
This comforting little news story with a happy ending brought Red Notices into focus for many people, who, like me, had never heard of them. They are generally a good idea for dealing with criminals who flee across borders. But on closer scrutiny these Notices turn out to be popular with dictators who use them to harass dissidents and their political opponents who have fled abroad. Compared with polonium poisoning and chemical nerve agents, Red Notices seem quaintly legalistic and almost benign. But they can result in individuals innocent of any crimes, save opposition to tyranny, going to jail at home, or worse.
This is not the whole story. Before an arrest can take place, the government receiving a Red Notice, its Interior Ministry, must approve the request – in UK that is the Home Office and the term used is “certify” as in certify there is a case to be heard. Several months of judicial proceedings can follow before the case goes to court to decide whether the Notice complies with internationally agreed Interpol rules, for example, that the Notice should not be politically motivated. It takes two to tango, the host country and the country issuing the Red Notice. And when T stands for Terrorism and Turkey as well as Tango the stakes are high.
As Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State from 1997-2002, once said referring to terrorism “whenever the United States wages war on an abstract noun, it gets into difficulties”. After the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey in which over 300 died, sticking the terrorism label on opponents and dissidents became stock-in-trade for President Erdogan.. None have suffered more than members of Hizmet, the international Islamic Gülen movement, followers of Fetullah Gülen whose modernising writing and teaching is very far from hate-speech, incitement to violence or promotion of terrorism.
Hizmet was branded a Terrorist Organisation, FETO for short, by Erdogan. Massive purges of alleged Gülen followers from all walks of life followed. The movement’s emphasis on education alongside piety had resulted in Gülenists moving into positions of influence in Turkish society, forming an alternative power-base to Erdogan’s ruling AKP Party. Some followers had joined the coup which seems in retrospect to have been a secular-led. This gave Erdogan the opportunity to wipe out what he saw as a significant organised internal opposition. Tens of thousands of Gülenists have lost their jobs, and/or been imprisoned or forced into exile, their families persecuted. Teachers in Gülen schools outside Turkey have been abducted, others have received death threats. The purges have swept up many people beyond Hizmet. The main groups targeted are lawyers, civil servants and journalists as well as police and military. Association with the Kurdish insurgency in the south-east provides a further charge levelled against journalists.
So Turkey has been seeking the extradition of HIzmet members from the UK. Most recently, and prominently amongst them, are Hamdi Akin Ipek, a media tycoon, owner of Koza Holdings, Talip Büyük who managed the Gülen movement’s Fatih Colleges, and Ali Çelik, head of the Gülen-linked Bank Asya. In late November this year, Judge John Zani rejected the case for their extradition from the UK on grounds that the application was politically motivated. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), representing the Turkish government in British courts, are now taking the case to appeal. Even if Turkey’s applications fail, the subjects of Red Notices will have endured months of exhausting uncertainty and anxiety.
The point of the story is not simply that Judge Zani is upholding the rule of law over the political advantage the UK might gain by obliging Erdogan, a NATO ally and strategic trading partner. The real issue is this: do the Crown and people of this country really wish the CPS – whose time and staff we pay for - to represent a government which engages in human rights violations to a prodigious extent? The same might be asked of the Home Office which, when it certifies Turkish Red Notices, triggers the arrest of the named person, causing at the very least six months of legal costs, bail proceedings, anxiety and a life on hold. This is a remarkably effective way of harassing Turkish refugees who are under the supposed protection of the UK government. Some of them will, in addition, be receiving death threats and loss by confiscation of their, and their family members’, homes back in Turkey. Britain needs to re-read its international obligations to protect refugees.
I do not assume that all the targets of Turkey’s Red Notices are saints. But trumped up criminal charges often form part of the harassment game. And British government is perfectly well aware of these tactics.
Here is a very simple question. If the politically motivated use of Red Notices by Putin and the Russian government was so reprehensible it warranted a well-run campaign against Major General Prokopchuk’s appointment to President of Interpol, supported by the UK, then how come the Home Office is certifying politically motivated Notices from Erdogan and the Turkish government?
Answers on one side of A4. Bonus marks for explaining how this treatment of refugees is compatible with British values.