Case Studies

Michelle Betz: A politically motivated trial


Michelle Betz is a Canadian journalist and media consultant who has worked for numerous NGOs and UN agencies in conflict and post-conflict countries in Africa to build the capacity of local journalists.

In 2011, Michelle was one of 43 NGO workers charged in Egypt of operating without a licence and receiving foreign funding, as part of a crackdown on independent civil society groups in the country. The prosecution was described by the United States government as “politically motivated”.

Michelle and others indicted in the case had, by this time, left Egypt which therefore sought to use INTERPOL to seek her arrest and extradition. Michelle was advised not to travel to avoid arrest and extradition. For someone whose work depended on the ability to travel, this was devastating for Michelle’s career. Following intervention by the US Government, in April 2012 INTERPOL refused Egypt’s Red Notice request, acknowledging that the request was politically-motivated and in violation of the organisation’s guidelines. In June 2013, Michelle was convicted in absentia to 5 years hard labour in a “politically-motivated” trial.

Sadly, although INTERPOL eventually refused to issue a Red Notice, Egypt had already been able to use INTERPOL’s systems to issue another, less “formal” wanted person alert – a ‘diffusion’ notice.  Without any prior review by INTERPOL. ‘diffusion’ notices can be circulated directly between countries. Despite being notified of the decision not to issue a formal red notice, INTERPOL’s 190 member countries are not required to remove this diffusion from their databases. As a result, Michelle’s name is likely to appear on police databases across the globe, still leaving her at risk of arrest.