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Turkey using Interpol to track dissidents

November 7, 2019

Ankara doesn't take kindly to critics — and has been using Interpol to hunt down Turkish dissidents in Germany and elsewhere. An exclusive DW report.

Interpol logo
Image: Getty Images/AFP/R. Rahman

Turkey's government is making extensive use of Interpol to issue arrest warrants and gather information about Turkish citizens in Germany. Since the attempted coup in July 2016, Ankara has called on Interpol 1,252 times to either extradite or provide information on Turkish nationals living in Germany.

Read more: Interpol: Who polices the world's police?

Andrej Hunko
'Interpol is being instrumentalized': HunkoImage: picture-alliance/dpa/L. Schulze

This information was revealed following a parliamentary inquiry submitted by the socialist Left party.

The figures, seen by DW, break down into 1,168 red notices — requests to arrest and extradite Turkish citizen to Turkey — and 84 blue notices, or requests to collect information on a person's identity, location or activities.

The uncommonly high number is a matter of deep concern for Left party lawmaker Andrej Hunko, who believes "Interpol is being instrumentalized" to hunt down and silence Turkish dissidents. He says Interpol's sole purpose is to combat crime, and that its legal framework prohibits investigations launched on political grounds.

Violating Interpol's constitution

Article 3 of Interpol's constitution states that "it is strictly forbidden for the Organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character."  

Nevertheless, Interpol is acutely aware of the risk that member states may abuse red notices for political reasons. That's why, in 2018, the organization established the Notices and Diffusions Task Force, consisting of seven legal experts from Slovakia, Croatia, Ukraine, Sweden and Germany.

Read more: Kurds in Turkey increasingly subject to violent hate crimes

Their task is to scrutinize the 80,000-odd arrest warrants that have been submitted to Interpol and determine if any of them violate Article 3. Last year, the German government announced that Interpol had already found 130 instances of such violations going back to January 2014.

But Hunko wants Interpol to do more than just review all the red notices; he's calling on the organization to examine the blue notices as well, which request that authorities gather information about a person's whereabouts. He says Ankara has been abusing this second option in order to track down and abduct Turkish dissents abroad.

Turkey abducts Erdogan opponents in Kosovo

Ankara tracking down dissidents

Again and again, Germans of Turkish descent have been arrested abroad on international arrest warrants on Turkey's behalf. Several of these cases made headlines in recent years.

Among them was 54-year-old Ismet Kilic, who was granted political asylum in Germany over 20 years ago and now lives in Duisburg. He was arrested in Slovenia in July on Turkey's request, but Interpol decided that his arrest was unlawful in September. Kilic, meanwhile, was held in custody until mid-October.

Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office received the international arrest warrant for Kilic in the summer of 2013, yet failed to inform him or warn him of the risk of arrest abroad.

The case of Cologne-based novelist Dogan Akhanli is similar. In 2017, he was arrested in Spain on request of Turkey. Even though Akhanli has German citizenship, he was barred from leaving Spain for two months.

Ankara accuses Interpol of double standards

On Monday, Turkish Deputy Interior Minister Ismail Catakli said Interpol had so far rejected 646 Turkish arrest warrants, of which 462 had targeted supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara have identified as the mastermind of a failed 2016 coup. A further 115 rejected warrants targeted members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s.

According to Catakli, Interpol had not, however, objected to 66 arrest warrants targeting "Islamic State" (IS) fighters. He also said there were still 784 outstanding international arrest warrants for PKK members.

The Turkish government regards IS, the Gulen movement and the PKK as terrorist organizations. Catakli accused Interpol of double standards by treating these groups differently, facilitating the prosecution of some but not others.

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Elmas Topcu, sitting next to a bookcase full of books
Elmas Topcu Stories on Turkey, German-Turkish relations and political and religious groups linked to Turkey.@topcuelmas