INTERPOL reinstates alert against Russian refugee
25th October 2013
In a one page letter, INTERPOL has rejected a challenge to Russia’s use of an international wanted person alert against refugee, Petr Silaev, charged with “hooliganism” after his involvement in an environmental demonstration outside Moscow. Fair Trials International has sought an explanation of INTERPOL’s decision and questioned INTERPOL on the use of its global policing systems by Russia against activists on “hooliganism” charges.
Fair Trials International’s Chief Executive, Jago Russell, said:
“Unlike many others, Petr Silaev was able to escape Russia and find refuge in Europe after he was targeted for “hooliganism” following his involvement in an environmental demonstration. INTERPOL’s decision to reinstate the alert leaves Petr at threat of arrest whenever he crosses a border. As international concern mounts over Russia’s use of vague “hooliganism” charges against demonstrators, INTERPOL should justify its decision to reinstate this alert against Petr and explain whether it is helping Russia to pursue anyone else across the globe on hooliganism charges.”
After Petr Silaev was arrested and detained in Spain due to the INTERPOL alert, Fair Trials International challenged Russia’s use of INTERPOL’s systems against him. The 28-page application highlighted Petr’s recognition as a political refugee, Russia’s pattern of misuse of vague “hooliganism charges” against demonstrators, the vague nature of allegations against Petr and Spain’s refusal to extradite Petr on the basis that the charges against him were politically motivated.
The one page response from INTERPOL has rejected this application, without referring to any specific facts of the case, stating that: “there is no reason to believe that the retention of information [relating to Petr] in INTERPOL’s files would not be in compliance with INTERPOL’s rules”. There was no hearing before the decision was reached and there is no right of appeal against this decision. Fair Trials International has sought a reasoned decision from INTERPOL and asked for disclosure of “additional information” which it confirms has been received from Russia since submission of the application. We have also asked INTERPOL to disclose details of Russia’s use of INTERPOL alerts, including against those wanted on hooliganism charges.
Notes to Editors
- Fair Trials International is a human rights charity which works for effective defence of the right to a fair trial according to recognised international standards.
- Petr Silaev is a Russian anti-fascist activist and recognised refugee from Moscow. In 2010 he took part in a demonstration against controversial plans for a new motorway through the Khimki forest. Following the demonstration, a widespread police crackdown led to the arrest of known anti-fascist activists across Moscow. Fearing he would be targeted, Petr fled Russia and was recognised as a political refugee in Finland. In August 2012, however, he was arrested in Spain on the basis of a request circulated by Moscow prosecutors using INTERPOL’s channels and was detained for eight days in a high-security prison. The Russian authorities requested his extradition from Spain to face trial for an offence of ‘hooliganism’, one of several prosecutions relating to the Khimki demonstration which was the subject of serious concerns in the local human rights community, including the organisation Memorial, winner of the European Parliament’s 2009 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. In February 2013, the Spanish court refused Petr’s extradition on the basis that he was being prosecuted on account of his political opinions. Click here to read more about Petr’s case and watch him speaking about his ordeal.
- ‘Hooliganism’ is defined by Article 213(1) of the Russian Criminal Code as ‘a gross violation of the public order which expresses patent contempt for society’. Under Article 213(2), it can be committed ‘by an organised group’, and the offence is punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment. Its enforcement by Russian prosecutors and courts became the subject of international criticism after members of the punk band Pussy Riot were convicted of hooliganism and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for staging a public performance of an anti-Putin song in a Church in Moscow in February 2012, a verdict criticised by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union and the US State Department. The 30 Greenpeace activists arrested in Murmansk in relation to their protest against arctic drilling, including EU and Canadian citizens, raising concern in the European Parliament, are also now accused of hooliganism. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has stated that ‘[c]harges of hooliganism [...] should not be used to curb freedom of expression’.
- In May 2013 Fair Trials applied to the “Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files” which is a data protection panel within INTERPOL charged with monitoring INTERPOL’s compliance with its rules. We argued that the information on Petr should be deleted from INTERPOL’s systems because, according to its own constitution, INTERPOL must not “undertake any intervention or activities of a political, religious, racial or military character”. To read the application, click here. Its proceedings do not allow for oral hearings and it does not issue reasoned decisions. Attempts to challenge abuses of INTERPOL’s systems in courts around the world have failed.
- INTERPOL is the second largest international organisation, after the United Nations, with 190 member countries and an annual budget of €70 million. One of its roles is to enable police forces across the globe to exchange information, including the distribution of information seeking the arrest of wanted people for the purposes of extradition. This is done through “Diffusions” and “Red Notices” and over 20,000 of these are issued each year and circulated across the globe. Each carries with it the potential to deprive people of their liberty and reputation. For more information on red notices and INTERPOL, click here.
- Some of INTERPOL’s 190 member countries are known human rights abusers and notoriously corrupt, but Interpol has no effective mechanisms to prevent countries, or even individual prosecutors, abusing its systems. As a result, even though most red notices may be perfectly valid, abuses of INTERPOL are affecting human rights campaigners, journalists and businessmen. Other cases include:
- Benny Wenda, a West Papuan freedom fighter who escaped from prison in Indonesia and was granted asylum as a political refugee in the UK. Indonesia obtained a red notice based on the same politically-motivated charges he had fled, and had the notice published on INTERPOL’s website, tarnishing the image of Benny and his campaign. Further to an application by Fair Trials International, INTERPOL deleted the red notice in July 2012.
- Napoleon Gómez, a trade union leader from Mexico against whom prosecutors issued over ten arrest warrants, all based on the same allegations, all of which were dismissed by national courts. Despite this, the Mexican authorities maintained a red notice in place for six years. INTERPOL eventually deleted the red notice in March 2013.
- Fair Trials is calling for reforms to INTERPOL to protect against abuse and allow redress:
- First, changes so INTERPOL can identify red notices requested by countries that would be abusive, incomplete or inaccurate. In recent years Interpol has, sadly, made it easier for countries to avoid its limited internal controls.
- Secondly, an effective and independent body must be created to give people a fair chance to challenge the use of Interpol’s systems against them. This must follow basic rules of due process, be transparent and give reasons for its decisions.