Turkey continues to misuse INTERPOL databases to target political dissidents: report

The Turkish government, which critics say falsely registers dissidents’ passports as lost, stolen or revoked to facilitate their deportation to Turkey, where they often face political reprisal, is preventing some of its citizens abroad from learning the current status of their passports to avoid deportation to Turkey, according to a report by Bünyamin Tekin of Turkish Minute.

According to correspondence seen by Turkish Minute, INTERPOL refers passport holders to Turkish authorities for more information and initiates an arduous process to overcome the obstacle and delete possible politically motivated records on the passport.

Responses by INTERPOL to requests for access to data concerning the passport records of Turkish citizens abroad, some of whom are targeted by their government for political reasons, have once again raised concerns about the misuse of INTERPOL databases by the Turkish government.

INTERPOL’s responses to individuals requesting information about the status of their passports in the INTERPOL Information System revealed that the National Central Bureau (NCB) of INTERPOL in Turkey had restricted the communication of any information, including the existence or absence of data, to some passport holders.

The Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF), in its responses to the individuals who request access to data about their passports, cited Article 35 of its statute, which allows the restriction of information to protect public or national security, prevent crime, maintain confidentiality of investigations or protect the rights and freedoms of individuals.

However, legal experts argue that enabling Turkey to justify a restriction of data to individuals violates their rights.

According to Brussels-based lawyer Ali Yıldız, the current form of data restriction by INTERPOL concerning Turkey “violates the principles of justification, proportionality and the right to access and correct data.”

Yıldız states that the restrictions imposed by the NCB in Turkey “nullify individuals’ rights and expose them to political reprisal.”

According to Ahmet Eren, a former police chief who served as the assistant director of the INTERPOL General Secretariat, INTERPOL considers member countries as the owners of the information they provide, and therefore, INTERPOL’s CCF cannot disclose any information without their permission. The INTERPOL statute mandates this restriction, and Eren suggests that a change in the statute is necessary to address the issue.

Eren believes that Turkey may employ this article more frequently in the future, asserting that Turkey does not want the information provided to INTERPOL to be shared with individuals.

“This INTERPOL statute has drawn significant criticism since the CCF cannot provide information to the requesting party without consulting the country that supplied the data. This is a longstanding issue within INTERPOL, and until the statute is revised, this problem may persist,” Eren said.

Turkey has been accused of abusing INTERPOL mechanisms, particularly Red Notices, to target political opponents. These Red Notices have resulted in the freezing of assets, revocation of passports and restrictions on movement, causing damage to the reputation of individuals labeled as international criminals.

The European Parliament has also emphasized the need for further action by INTERPOL to prevent the abuse of its mechanisms by authoritarian regimes. The parliament’s report called for more transparency, effective procedures to prevent Red Notice abuse and improved capacity to identify and eliminate abusive Red Notices. It highlighted the lack of full transparency in INTERPOL’s actions and the need for better legal safeguards and implementation of reforms.

According to a report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom, the Turkish government under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used the International Notice System, such as Red Notices and diffusions, to target political opponents who have done nothing more than criticize the government.

Similarly, it has also abused INTERPOL’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents Database by filing tens of thousands of notifications for critics and opponents who, in many instances, were not even aware that their passports had been invalidated.

Since a coup attempt in 2016 the Erdoğan government has employed extralegal methods to secure the return of its critics after its official extradition requests have been denied. The government’s campaign has mostly relied on renditions, in which the government persuade the relevant states to hand over individuals without due process, using various methods.

The victims have suffered a number of human rights violations including arbitrary arrests, house raids, torture and ill-treatment during these operations.

In several of these cases the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) concluded that the arrest, detention and forced transfer to Turkey of Turkish nationals were arbitrary and in violation of international human rights norms and standards.

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