Tuesday

21st Aug 2018

'I thought I was safe in Europe'

  • Interpol has no external oversight (Photo: interpol.int)

The arrest of a Turkish dissident has again highlighted the way rogue regimes use Interpol to hunt their enemies inside the EU.

Armed police arrested Dogan Akhanli on Saturday (19 August) morning at his hotel in Granada, Spain, handcuffed him, and drove him for questioning at a regional HQ.

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  • Akhnali has spoken out against Erdogan's genocide denial and human rights abuses (Photo: Raimond Spekking)

The 60-year old writer was later freed, but is not allowed to leave Spain until judges have decided whether to extradite him to Turkey.

“They [the police] were also surprised because they were looking for a terrorist and then a delicate old man stood before them. The picture did not fit,” Akhanli told Tagesschau, a German news service, on Sunday.

“I had opened the door in my underpants and my wife was still lying in bed,” he said.

The Spanish police came after him because Turkey had filed a so called “red notice” at Interpol, an international police agency based in France, for his arrest as a terrorist.

The writer, who is a critic of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and of Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide, fled to Germany in the 1990s and obtained German citizenship after being persecuted in his home country.

“I thought I was safe in Europe. I thought Turkish arrogance cannot reach Europe, but probably this is not quite true,” he said.

“I find it a shame because Spanish democracy has experience with Franco and fascism and such tricks as have just been tried by Turkey,” he said, referring to a former Spanish dictator.

The Spanish police let Akhnali out of custody after German leader Angela Merkel and foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel spoke out on his behalf.

Merkel told the RTL broadcaster on Sunday that Turkey “must not misuse international organisations such as Interpol”.

She said that Akhnali was “unfortunately [just] one of many cases” in which Turkey had gone after German citizens for political reasons.

Gabriel said “it would be horrible if Turkey could have people jailed at the other end of Europe for raising their voice against president Erdogan”.

“I have full confidence in the Spanish judiciary and know that our friends and partners in the Spanish government know what is involved here,” he said, referring to Akhnali’s extradition process.

The Akhanli case is one of several in recent years to show Interpol’s openness to political abuse.

Germany itself, in 2015, arrested Ahmed Mansour, a journalist for the Al-Jazeera news agency, on an Interpol notice filed by the Egyptian regime.

Belgium, last year, arrested Maxime Azadi, a Kurdish journalist on a Turkish Interpol request.

Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia have routinely used Interpol notices and so called “diffusions” to hunt and harass political opponents in the EU.

Interpol, which is an independent intergovernmental body, has no external oversight.

It has an internal oversight body, the so-called CCIF, but this is just five people who meet three times a year to weed out political abuse from the 30,000 or so red notices and diffusions filed in Interpol’s database.

Akhanli told Tagesschau that: “I would never have expected such a quick reaction by German politicians … I am somewhat proud and glad that I am a German citizen and have this support”.

But Interpol’s critics have warned that dissidents with a smaller public profile have less chance of protection.

"What about the 'little man,' who is accused in some show trial? There is a high risk he gets stopped at the border just not knowing that Interpol has been notified," Eerik Kross, an Estonian politician who was hunted by Russia via Interpol, previously told EUobserver.

Merkel, in her remarks to RTL, mentioned that Turkey has also detained a German journalist, Deniz Yucel, on terrorism charges.

Erdogan, speaking on Saturday, indicated that he would only free Yucel if Germany extradited Turks living in Germany whom he has accused of complicity in last year’s failed coup.

Lady’s bargain?

“I gave the file of 4,500 terrorists to the lady in charge of Germany, and unfortunately the files of these terrorists were not accepted," Erdogan said.

“She asked me to return one person, two people, three people … forgive me, but you have your legal system and so do we,” he added.

He also urged the 1 million or so Turkish expats in Germany, who are eligible to take part in German elections in September, not to vote for Merkel.

"Teach them [Merkel’s CDU party] a lesson”, he said.

His remarks prompted criticism from Germany’s Gabriel and from Austria’s foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz.

Gabriel said it was an “unprecedented act of interference in the sovereignty of our country”.

Kurz said Erdogan was “trying to manipulate Turkish communities, especially in Germany and Austria. He is … importing conflicts from Turkey to the EU”.

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