Interpol: The abuse of red notices is bad news for critical journalists


Interpol 86th general assembly

Interpol 86th general assembly (Credit: Interpol)

Red notices have become a tool of political abuse by oppressive regimes. Since August, at least six journalists have been targeted across Europe by international arrest warrants issued by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

“The use of the Interpol system to target journalists is a serious breach of media freedom. Interpol’s own constitution bars it from interventions that are political in nature. In all of these cases, the accusations against the journalists are politically motivated,” Hannah Machlin, project manager for Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom, said.

In the most recent case on 21 October, journalist and blogger Zhanara Akhmet from Kazakhstan was detained in Ukraine on an Interpol warrant and is currently in a temporary detention facility. Akhmet claims this red notice is politically motivated.

The journalist worked for an opposition newspaper, the Tribune, in Kazakhstan as well as documented human rights violations by the Kazakh authorities on a blog.

On 14 October, also in Ukraine, Azerbaijani opposition journalist Fikret Huseynli was detained at Kyiv Boryspil Airport.

Huseynli sought refuge in the Netherlands in 2006 and was granted citizenship two years ago. While leaving Ukraine, the journalist was stopped by Interpol police with a red notice issued at the request of the Azerbaijani authorities. He has been charged with fraud and illegal border crossing.

Because Huseynli holds a Dutch passport, he cannot be forcibly extradited to Azerbaijan, but he told colleagues he fears attempts to abduct him.

“The arrest of the Azerbaijani opposition journalist by the Ukrainian authorities at the request of the authoritarian government of Azerbaijan is a serious blow to the common European values such as protection of freedom of expression, which Ukraine has committed itself to respect as part of its membership in the Council of Europe and the OSCE,” IRFS CEO Emin Huseynov said.

On 17 October, Boryspil City District Court ruled to imprison Huseynli for 18 days at a pre-trial detention centre, Huseynli’s lawyer announced.

Huseynli’s arrest was the second time in a month that a journalist has been detained in Ukraine on a red notice.

On 20 September, authorities detained journalist Narzullo Okhunjonov, who had been seeking political asylum in Ukraine, under an Interpol red notice when he arrived from Turkey with his family. Okhunjonov writes from exile for sites including BBC Uzbek on Uzbekistan’s authoritarian government. Uzbekistan filed the international arrest warrant for the journalist on fraud charges. He denies the charges against him.

Five days after he was detained, a Kyiv court sentenced Okhunjonov to a 40-day detention while they decide whether to extradite him to his home country.  [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-times-circle” color=”black” background_style=”rounded” size=”xl” align=”right” link=”|||”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]

Index on Censorship monitors press freedom in 42 European countries through its Mapping Media Freedom database.

Since 24 May 2014, Mapping Media Freedom’s team of correspondents have recorded and verified 3,597 violations against journalists and media outlets.

Index campaigns to protect journalists and media freedom. You can help us by submitting reports to Mapping Media Freedom.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Interpol warrants have also been issued in Spain.

Turkish journalist Doğan Akhanlı was detained while on vacation in Spain on 9 August. The journalist has lived in Cologne since 1992 where he writes about human rights issues, particularly the Armenian Genocide, which Turkey denies.

Turkey charged Akhanlı with armed robbery which supposedly occurred in 1989. After the charges were brought against him in 2010 and he was acquitted in 2011, the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned his acquittal and a re-trial began. Akhanlı faces “life without parole”.

Two weeks later, Interpol removed the warrant and Akhanlı was released. The decision was made after German chancellor Angela Merkel denounced the abuse of the Interpol police agency: “It is not right and I’m very glad that Spain has now released him. We must not misuse international organisations like Interpol for such purposes.”

Markel claimed Erdogan’s use of the international agency for political purposes was “unacceptable”.

Akhanlı’s detention came two weeks after Turkish journalist Hamza Yalçın was detained on 3 August at El Prat airport in Barcelona, where he was vacationing, Cumhuriyet reported. He holds a Swedish passport and has sought asylum there since 1984.

Yalçın is being accused of “insulting the Turkish president” and spreading “terror propaganda” for Odak magazine of which he was the chief columnist, according to a report by Evrensel.

Like Ukraine, Spain’s member state status in the Council of Europe also arises the question of their activity in the arrests of Akhanlı and Yalçın. “The latest cases of arrests of journalists in Ukraine and Spain on the basis of Interpol red notices … have extremely worrying implications for press freedom,” Rebecca Vincent UK Bureau Director for Reporters Without Borders, said. “Interpol reform is long overdue, and is becoming increasingly urgent as critical journalists are now at risk travelling even in Council of Europe member states”.

Turkey’s recent continued persecution of journalists through Interpol also reached as far as Germany. A Turkish prosecutor has requested the Turkish government issue a red notice through Interpol though it is unclear if it went through.

On 28 September 2017, the Diyarbakir Prosecutor’s Office filed an application to seek an Interpol red notice for Can Dündar, the former Editor-in-chief of Turkey’s anti-regime newspaper, Cumhuriyet. The demand for a red notice is based on a speech made by Dündar in April 2016, supposedly supporting the “terror propaganda” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Dündar fled Turkey for Germany in 2016.

On the same day, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) nominated Dündar and the Cumhuriyet newspaper for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Turkey is no exception to using this system just as is Russia, Iran, Syria, and its close neighbour and ally Azerbaijan among other governments, where political direction does not necessarily align with democracy, respect for human rights and basic freedoms,” Arzu Geybulla, an Azerbaijani journalist and human rights activist said. “Targeting its citizens who have escaped persecution and have been forced to flee as a result of their opinions, is a worrying sign especially at a time, when over 160 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey and thousands of people have lost their jobs, been arrested or currently face trials in the aftermath of the July coup.”

Although PACE has adopted a resolution condemning the abuses of Interpol red notices, a review of Interpol’s red notice procedure has yet to be adopted. Amid criticism from human rights activists, journalists, and even leaders like Angela Merkel, it is unclear if Interpol will make a change to their red notice regulations.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1509034712367-374920af-c5df-6″ taxonomies=”6564″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Index urges Ukraine to not extradite journalist to Uzbekistan


Index on Censorship urges Ukraine to not extradite journalist Narzullo Okhunjonov to Uzbekistan where he faces prosecution.

On 20 September authorities detained Okhunjonov when he arrived at an international airport in Kyiv, Ukraine, following an Interpol red notice.

Uzbek authorities issued an international arrest warrant on fraud charges against Okhunjonov, who denies the charges.

A Kyiv court then approved a 40-day detention period for the journalist, the limit under an Interpol notice.

Okhunjonov along with his wife and five children were seeking political asylum from the Ukrainian authorities. The journalist has been living in exile in Turkey since 2013 in order to avoid politically motivated persecution for his reporting.

“This abuse of the Interpol system is a direct violation of Article 2 of its constitution and a clear effort to silence critical journalists,” Hannah Machlin, project manager of Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom platform, said. “We call on the Ukrainian authorities to allow Narzullo Okhunjonov to remain in Ukraine, grant him political asylum and reject requests to extradite him to his home country.”

Okhunjonov writes in Uzbek and Russian for media outlets including BBC Uzbek on topics such as Uzbekistan’s authoritarian government and has criticised by the late president Islam Karimov.

The journalist’s family is currently residing in Kyiv.

The Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly published Resolution 2161 in April 2017 on the abuse of the Interpol system. The resolution underlined that “in a number of cases in recent years, however, Interpol and its Red Notice system have been abused by some member States in the pursuit of political objectives, in order to repress freedom of expression”.

In August, two exiled Turkish journalists, Hamza Yalçın and Doğan Akhanli, were detained in Spain following Interpol red notices from Turkey. Both are no longer facing extradition. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1506702230284-c0425a2a-f87f-6″ taxonomies=”6564″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Index urges Russian government to halt deportation of Uzbek journalist

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]8 August: Index on Censorship welcomes a ruling by a Russian court temporarily halting the deportation of independent journalist Khudoberdi Nurmatov, better known by his pen name Ali Feruz. The decision follows a European Court of Human Rights order to delay the deportation until it can rule on the journalist’s appeal.

Index calls on the Russian authorities to allow accept Nurmatov’s asylum application and ensure he is treated safely.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”94957″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Journalist Khudoberdi Nurmatov, who works for independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, is set to be deported back to Uzbekistan, where it is feared he will be tortured.

“Deportation to Uzbekistan puts his life at serious risk. If sent back Nurmatov faces a long prison sentence under cruel conditions, including torture. We call on Russia to stop the deportation and accept Nurmatov’s asylum application,” Hannah Machlin, manager for Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project, said.  

A Moscow court ruled on 1 August 2017 that Nurmatov (also known as Ali Feruz) violated immigration laws. He is currently being held in a deportation centre in Moscow where he faces immediate expulsion from the country. In May 2016 and in February 2017, Russia refused to grant the journalist temporary asylum.

In 2008, Novaya Gazeta reported that Nurmatov was abducted by Uzbek security forces who demanded he provide information on his contacts. He was subsequently beaten and threatened. He later applied for asylum in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, but decided to flee to Russia in 2011, where he feared extradition. Because of his refusal to work for Uzbek security forces, friends and supporters are concerned that he could be abducted or tortured.

According to his lawyer Daniil Khaimovich, on 2 August Feruz attempted to commit suicide in a hallway at the courthouse. The journalist then told his lawyer: “I would rather die than return to Uzbekistan.”

Nurmatov has covered a wide range of topics at the paper including on abuse of power, LGBT issues and conditions of central asian immigrants in Russia.

“Ali is an extremely valuable asset as he’s been covering the migrant community in Russia that media normally can’t report on easily. He is committed to his work and shows real compassion to the problems he reports on. We can’t imagine losing him,” Anna Baydakova, a politics reporter for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, told Index on Censorship.  [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1502188585770-4b2b310d-e3a3-9″ taxonomies=”7349, 15″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Index magazine talks shadows, spectres and socialism


In the Summer 2017 issue of Index on Censorship, our special report looks at how the consequences of the Russian Revolution have affected freedom of speech around the world, 100 years later.

On this podcast, the British Library’s Susan Reed explains why 1917 is such a pivotal event in 20th century history, before North Korea expert BG Muhn discusses the unique, Soviet-inspired socialist realism art produced by one of the last remaining communist dictatorships, while the Uzbek writer Hamid Ismailov, in exile since 1992, muses on his government’s Soviet hangover and disdain for his work. Plus, Margaret Atwood gives her thoughts on the growing trend in Western countries of scientists being prevented from communicating inconvenient data to the public.

You can read Atwood’s full interview in the magazine, along with pieces by Muhn and Ismailov.

Print copies of the magazine are available on Amazon, or you can take out a digital subscription via Exact Editions. Copies are also available at the BFI, the Serpentine Gallery, MagCulture, (London), News from Nowhere (Liverpool), Home (Manchester) and on Amazon. Each magazine sale helps Index on Censorship continue its fight for free expression worldwide.

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