Interpol, Russia and Politically-Motivated Arrest Warrants

May 24, 2013

Yesterday’s Telegraph featured a trenchant (and alarming) critique of Interpol by Peter Oborne, highlighting the abuse of Interpol’s organizational channels by authoritarian governments seeking the extradition of political enemies. Sadly yet unsurprisingly, the Russian Federation is at the top of the list of countries which abuse this system for malignant ends—most recently, with the politically-motivated pursuit of businessman and campaigner Bill Browder.

In 2009, Mr. Browder’s attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, was killed in prison after publicly revealing a $230 million tax fraud perpetrated by Russian officials. Since that time, Browder has campaigned to bring the perpetrators of that crime—who have been protected by the Russian state—to justice. He has made Magnitsky an internationally-recognized human rights case, and succeeded in convincing the US Congress to pass the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which imposes travel bans and sanctions on Sergei’s persecutors, as well as any other Russians credibly suspected of human rights abuses.

Browder’s tenacity has been rewarded with specious criminal charges by the Russian government, now pursuing a campaign to smear and punish Browder using all the available international channels. They have requested that Interpol issue an “all points bulletin” to locate Browder—the first step towards his arrest and extradition. So far, so unsurprising. And besides, Article 3 of Interpol’s Constitution protects individuals against politically-motivated persecution, no?

Apparently not. Oborne writes:

“Any decent organization would have dismissed this outrageous demand out of hand. Not Interpol, which is expected to decide whether to comply with the Russian request at a meeting today at its Lyon headquarters. There is every chance it will, if precedent is anything to go by.

[…] Let’s turn our attention to Petr Silaev, a young political activist who was forced to flee Russia after taking part in a demonstration against the destruction of the Khimki Forest outside Moscow three years ago…after escaping from Russia he made his way to Spain, where he was seized by counter-terrorism police, acting on instructions from Moscow which had been circulated thanks to Interpol. Let’s be clear: Mr. Silaev is guiltless of any crime except offending the FSB. He was nevertheless held in a high-security jail for eight days, and cannot move outside Spain without the risk of being arrested again. The human rights charity Fair Trials International (which is preparing a report on the abuse of the Interpol system to threaten human rights activists, journalists and businessmen) has taken up his case and formally requested that his name be removed from Interpol databases; so far without success.

As the Silaev case shows, Interpol is relaxed about collaborating with repressive regimes.”

Oborne goes on to list several other examples of politically-motivated warrants issued by corrupt and/or despotic governments which have, shockingly, been pursued by Interpol. Let us hope that Browder’s case highlights these abuses of an international system which is meant to protect the interests of justice–not facilitate its perversion.