Cut off from accessing the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) database due to blatant abuse, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey has developed plans to bypass Interpol’s filtering mechanisms in order to persecute and harass critics and opponents abroad.
A two-page Turkish government document obtained by Nordic Monitor revealed how Interpol shut off access to its database by the Turkish police’s Interpol/Europol department after the Erdoğan government flooded the system with politically motivated filings. In response, the Turkish government sought ways to bypass the restrictions and restore the access, presenting a document that bears the signature of Murat Erdem, head of the Justice Ministry’s General Directorate for International Law and Foreign Relations. Erdem, who circulated the document to various branches of the government, proposed actions to overcome the block imposed by the Interpol administration.
The document, dated June 10, 2018, was apparently prepared after the Interpol General Secretariat informed the Turkish government in a letter on May 4, 2018 that the summary filings by Turkish authorities against 115 people who were believed to have been affiliated with the Gülen movement, a group critical of the government, were not acceptable. It also warned against new filings against these people, citing violations of the Interpol Constitution.
The General Secretariat’s letter specifically referred to Article 3 of the Interpol Constitution, which says, “[I]t is strictly forbidden for the Organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.” It added that all filings made by the Turkish Interpol department would be deleted and urged it not to file new requests.
Despite Interpol’s warning, Turkey tried to submit a new filing for a Red Notice against Turkish national Cemal Türk, who was linked to the Gülen movement, and received a refusal from the General Secretariat. The Turkish government document states that similar filings had also been rejected by Interpol since 2016.
The Justice Ministry official wrote to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Interior Ministry saying that a new tactic must be developed to circumvent the ban imposed on Turkey by Interpol. He claimed Interpol’s rejection of filings against members of the Gülen movement was groundless and could not be justified with the Interpol Constitution.
Erdem underlined that Article 135 of Interpol’s Rules on the Processing of Data provided an opportunity for Turkey to make its case and get what it wanted. Article 135 refers to settlement of disputes over the use of Interpol mechanisms and states that “Disputes that arise in connection with the application of the present Rules should be solved by concerted consultation. If this fails, the matter may be submitted to the Executive Committee and, if necessary, to the General Assembly.”
He urged the Erdoğan government to lobby the General Assembly as well as the Executive Committee to bypass the restrictions and bans imposed by the General Secretariat on fraudulent filings to harass critics and opponents of the Erdoğan government.
Turkish government document confirming that Interpol repeatedly refused to list the Gülen movement in its database, describing it as a violation of the Interpol Constitution:Interpol_abuse_Turkey_Redacted
Some of the critics targeted by the Erdoğan government have been living abroad for decades and hold citizenship other than Turkish. Others were forced to go into exile in order to escape wrongful prosecution and unlawful imprisonment on fabricated evidence. Most of the charges the Erdoğan government levels against critics are based on anti-terror laws, including defamation and coup charges that are often abused by the criminal justice system to punish opponents, critics and dissidents who have done nothing more than express opposing views of the government.
The Turkish government has not only abused Interpol’s Notices system but also its messaging and diffusions, especially Lost and Stolen Passports, in order to keep pressure on government critics abroad.
Nordic Monitor previously published documents showing how the Finnish Interpol service denied Turkey’s request to deport a political asylum seeker after a diffusion, which refers to a notice sent by the Interpol section of the Turkish national police, was used against a Turkish national resident in Helsinki. The document showed that the Turkish police triggered the Interpol diffusion process in the absence of a judicial decision. Similar notices were filed against others in Belgium, Poland and Germany, in some cases targeting exiled journalists who fled Turkey to avoid wrongful imprisonment. Turkey is one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, with 174 journalists currently in Turkish prisons according to the data recorded by the Stockholm Center for Freedom.
The most well-known case of the Turkish government’s abuse of Interpol mechanisms took place in 2017 when Enes Kanter, an NBA basketball player of Turkish origin, had barely escaped arrest while in Jakarta, where he stopped as part of a global goodwill tour on May 19, 2017. Kanter was detained on May 20, 2017 at Henri Coandă International Airport in Bucharest because his passport was reported to have been cancelled by the Turkish government. The NBA star was subsequently released after the US government and NBA officials intervened on his behalf. In 2019 Turkey tried to put the NBA star’s name on the Red Notices list, prompting Kanter to decline to join his then-team, the New York Knicks, on a trip to London for an NBA game in early January 2019. Kanter currently plays for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Since 2015, the Turkish government has cancelled the passports of some 650,000 people who are alleged to have been affiliated with the Gülen group. The revocation of passport privileges was also extended to spouses and children in an unprecedented campaign of intimidation that is claimed to be the largest witch hunt against government critics in Turkish history.
When their nationals of Turkish origin were detained in Spain in 2017 on a fraudulent Red Notice requested by Turkey, the German and Swedish governments immediately reacted and brought these political cases to the attention of the European Union, which later took action by asking Interpol to prevent such abuse. The EU as well as the Council of Europe raised the question of violation of the Interpol Constitution by Turkey through filing cases that did not warrant any criminal action but were rather seen as politically motivated harassment tactics.