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NEWS

Why does Bill Browder keep getting arrested?

admin - June 29, 2018 - INTERPOL, strengthening interpol

Last week, Bill Browder announced via Twitter that Russia was making a seventh request to have him arrested, just 3 weeks after he was arrested in Spain. After his Spanish arrest, INTERPOL released the following statement: “There is not, and never has been, a Red Notice for Bill Browder. Mr Browder is not wanted via Interpol channels.”

You may well wonder then, if there’s never been a Red Notice for Bill Browder, why does he keep getting threatened with arrest, and occasionally, actually arrested?

The answer in this case is twofold; firstly, Red Notices are not the only INTERPOL alerts that result in arrest. The last time Russia sought Browder’s arrest in 2017, it was through a Diffusion, another type of wanted person alert that gets sent out through INTERPOL’s channels. Although Red Notices are subject to vetting by INTERPOL to check they are not politically motivated, Diffusions are not subject to the same level of scrutiny.

The second reason is a recurring nightmare for all dissidents who have been subject to abusive INTERPOL alerts- even once INTERPOL has declared an alert invalid, the alert sometimes remains downloaded on national databases even once they’re deleted from INTERPOL’s channels. It seems that after the last Diffusion Russia issued for Browder in 2017, which tried to stop him travelling to the USA, although INTERPOL and the USA deleted the alert, Spain did not.

Browder is a great critic of Putin’s government, but he is also a very high-profile figure. After his arrest in Spain, the Secretary General of INTERPOL himself, Jurgen Stock, called Spanish authorities to tell them not to honour the alert. But most people subject to abusive INTERPOL alerts are not so lucky. Some dissidents have spent decades fighting these alerts, spent thousands of pounds they don’t have on lawyer’s fees, and years of their lives in pre-trial detention with the threat of extradition hanging over them. Imagine that after all this, having successfully fought to get the alert against you deleted, you find once again that you are arrested when travelling, simply because that same old alert hasn’t been deleted from some countries’ databases.

At Fair Trials, we have to advise all the people we provide assistance to that even if the Red Notice against them has been successfully deleted, we can’t guarantee they won’t get arrested again when travelling abroad.

A few days after Browder’s arrest and release, the Russian Prosecutor General released a statement saying that Russia would continue to seek his arrest, and that Russia would not let him ‘sleep peacefully’. Indeed, many dissidents aren’t able to sleep peacefully even after an alert has been deleted, and many choose not to travel for fear of arrest. Through INTERPOL, authoritarian regimes can use the full powers of a state to knowingly silence, intimidate and threaten their critics abroad.

Some UK MPs have suggested a suspension of Russia’s membership due to their shameless abuse of INTERPOL’s channels- but this won’t solve the underlying problem, and Russia is by no means the only state to employ these tactics. If Russia’s membership from INTERPOL is suspended, rather than being rendered powerless, it may instead fall back on the use of bilateral or regional extradition mechanisms that have little to no human rights protections currently in place.

It’s important to note that in recent years, INTERPOL has been receptive to these issues- it enacted reforms in 2015 and 2017 with the input of Fair Trials that are aimed at making existing policies to protect political refugees more effective. While these reforms are appreciated, it is clear that they are insufficient in mending the issue.

Rather than suggesting that Russia be removed from the organisation, UK MPs should instead be working to ensure that INTERPOL’s protections from misuse are sufficiently strengthened; advocating for reforms to better vet ‘diffusions’ (which Browder fell victim to), and ensuring that INTERPOL is adequately supported with sufficient resources. They should also work towards ensuring that the government is on hand to help anyone who is affected by abusive INTERPOL alerts, not just those like Browder, whose connections and high-profile stand in stark contrast to the vast majority of dissidents who are subject to INTERPOL abuses.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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