Turkey is accused of using Interpol summit to crack down on regime critics

Ankara is criticised for using its position as host to pressure the organisation to arrest political opponents
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PHOTO/Oficina de prensa presidencial turca vía REUTERS  -   The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The Interpol summit, far from boosting Turkey's image, is generating a lot of criticism from human rights activists. The record of the country led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not a good precedent in this area either, and it is accused of using its role as host of the general assembly to pressure other countries to detain what they label as terrorists. However, many of them, as has become the norm for the Turkish regime, are political opponents who have fled the country as a result of the repression they would be subjected to within Ottoman borders. 

The controversy stems from statements by Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu that his government would use the three-day event to persuade officials and delegates to arrest and extradite Turkish citizens living abroad who they claim have committed crimes. Turkey has always been criticised for arbitrarily imprisoning both political rivals and journalists who disagreed with Erdogan's dictates. In addition, Ankara is accused of constantly flooding the police organisation with requests for the arrest of political dissidents

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AFP/ADEM ALTAN  -   Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu

Interpol's 'red notice' system has been a widely used - bordering on abused - tool for Turkey to pursue all kinds of criminals. From drug traffickers to terrorists, war crimes suspects to human traffickers. This abusive use of Interpol's resources has long been of great concern to the international community, taking it to some of the world's most important chambers. The US Senate introduced a bill in July this year aimed at ending this use of international organisations to "pursue, harass or persecute political opponents and dissidents on trumped-up criminal charges". 

Erdogan himself emphasised the issue of extradition of Turkish criminals. He told the opening session on Tuesday that he expected "strong cooperation" to find, among many others, US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen and the Kurdish PKK movement. Gülen is considered one of Turkey's most important scholars, known internationally as a staunch advocate of rapprochement between the three great monotheistic religions. The organisation bearing his name is considered by Turkey to be the terrorist organisation behind the 2016 coup d'état, which led to the arrest of 532 people accused of belonging to this movement. 

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REUTERS/CHARLES MOSTOLLER  -   Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen

Interpol has sought to distance itself from the accusations that point to Recep Tayyip Erdogan's regime. The agency's secretary general, Jürgen Stock, assured that Interpol would limit its actions to strictly police matters, and in no case those motivated by political interests. "If member countries decide to use Interpol, they must apply our rules and standards. If a red notice has a predominantly political background, we take no action. If it is political, we are out... we respect and protect human rights," the secretary general told the media. 

A spokesman for the police organisation told the Guardian that up to 800 "red notice" requests from the Turkish government had been rejected over the past five years. He added that each and every one of them is thoroughly reviewed: "We have a working group that reviews every red notice request from every member country to make sure it is compliant. We put a lot of resources and effort into making sure that the red notice system is respected". Despite this, Erdogan's side has continued to generate a flood of requests, a large proportion of them targeting exiled critics in the country

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PHOTO/ Presidential Press Office via REUTERS - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his AKP party during a meeting at Parliament in Ankara March 11, 2020.

This criticism of Turkey's use of Interpol is not new. In August, the Stockholm Centre for Freedom accused the Turkish president of "weaponising" Interpol for a broad crackdown on government critics, human rights activists, or even ethnic minorities. "Turkey abuses Interpol in various ways. The International System of Notices, such as red notices and notices, are used to target political opponents who have committed no crime other than being critical of President Erdogan's government," they said just under four months ago, when controversy was already surrounding Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, as it has virtually always done.