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Governments Are Using Interpol to Pressure Political Enemies

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For years, the International Criminal Police Organization has helped fight crime across national borders.

Among other things, the organization called Interpol works to support cooperation among law enforcement agencies. And it has helped catch thousands of criminals.

But Interpol is increasingly being used by some governments to pressure and persecute political enemies who live in exile. That is the opinion of United States officials, lawmakers and immigration lawyers.

The persecution begins with a warning, known as a Red Notice. Interpol sends the notice to member countries that a person is wanted for arrest.

Any member can request a Red Notice as long as it stays within Interpol rules. The France-based agency does not investigate the charges. Last year, Interpol gave out more than 13,000 Red Notices. Many of them are believed to be little more than persecution.

Critics say the abuse has become a part of the U.S. government's immigration system. U.S. officials often treat Red Notices as "arrest warrants" to target asylum-seekers and other foreign nationals. They may have false, unproven or political charges against them.

"Acceptance of an Interpol (Red Notice)…can, and often does, turn ICE officials and our own immigration judges into…agents of repressive (governments)," said Sandra Grossman. She is an immigration attorney. She recently spoke to the U.S. Helsinki Commission, an independent U.S. government agency investigating the abuses.

Abuses of red notices

It is difficult to estimate the number of asylum seekers and other immigrants affected by persecutory Red Notices. Ted Bromund believes that anywhere from 25 to 100 people could be affected. Bromund is an immigration expert at the Heritage Foundation, a public policy center in Washington, D.C.

Members of the U.S. Congress are trying to pass legislation to put a stop to the abuses. Last month, a group of lawmakers proposed the Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention Act, or TRAP. Their bill would make it illegal to arrest someone based only on a Red Notice.

The TRAP Act would stop "Interpol abuse in the United States," Nate Schenkkan said at a Helsinki Commission meeting. He is the director of special research at the Freedom House, a U.S. government-aided non-governmental organization.

Interpol is not a police agency with power to investigate and arrest. It is more of an information service for its 194 members around the world. It lets law enforcement know about wanted persons with Red Notices.

The U.S. Justice Department states that a Red Notice is not an arrest warrant. ICE officials say they investigate Red Notices to ensure they are lawful.

Critics say ICE's policy of using a Red Notice as an arrest warrant has affected innocent foreign nationals hoping to live in the United States.

Arrested by ICE

In 2017, ICE agents reportedly arrested a Russian businessman at his asylum interview in the United States. The man was fleeing what he claimed was Russian persecution.

Sandra Grossman investigated the reasons for the arrest by filing a Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, request.

She claims that the FOIA said, 'Individual is the subject of a Red Notice. Danger to the community. Extreme flight risk. Apprehend Immediately.'"

Interpol later canceled the Red Notice. Grossman said the businessman is waiting for a court to hear his case. He now lives in what she calls "legal limbo."

A Chinese citizen represented by Grossman has spent months in a detention center because of a Red Notice, she said. The judge keeps him in detention only "because of the Red Notice,' she noted.

Most prolific

Turkey is believed to be the country to have most abused the Red Notice system. Russia is second, followed by China and three Central Asian Republics: Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

U.S. officials have dismissed at least eight Red Notice warnings by Russia for Bill Browder, a famous Russian government critic.

"We cannot allow Interpol to be weaponized against journalists, dissenting voices and oppressed minorities," said Edward O'Callaghan, a U.S. Justice Department official. He spoke at a recent celebration marking Interpol Washington's 50th anniversary.

I'm Dorothy Gundy.

I'm Susan Shand.

VOA's Masood Farivar reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

persecute – v. to treat (someone) cruelly or unfairly especially because of race or religious or political beliefs

ICE – abbreviation for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency

apprehend – v. to arrest

limbo – n. in an uncertain or undecided state or condition

dissent – v. to publicly disagree with an official opinion, decision, or set of beliefs

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