Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Using Interpol to Crackdown on Journalists, Activists

Dodojon Atovulloyev (Photo courtesy RSF)


As they grow increasingly intolerant of dissent, two Central Asian countries have used Interpol to track down and deport dissident activists, including journalists, who fearing reprisals by their governments, have sought refuge overseas. On August 20, Tajik authorities asked the Georgia to deport well-known journalist Dodojon Atovulloyev, while in the past year Kazakhstan has used Interpol to arrest opposition political figures from Poland, Spain and the Czech Republic. 

Many countries involved in crackdowns are part of the European Union, while Interpol is headquartered in Lyons, France.

Atovulloyev, who was held at Tbilisi airport from August 20 was however allowed to fly back to Germany next day where he has refugee status, said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF).

“The Georgian interior ministry said he was detained by airport border guards… at Interpol’s request,” RSF said.


RSF described Atovulloyev as an opponent of President Emomali Rakhmon’s government and the editor of Charogi Ruz (Daylight), independent Tajikistan’s only privately-owned newspaper. He had fled Tajikistan in 1993 after receiving death threats.

Interestingly, the Atovulloyev’s persecution in the region is seemingly not limited to Interpol holding him at Tbilisi airport. He was also denied entry into Russia in July, where Charogi Ruz is now produced RSF said.

While expressing relief the Georgian government had not extradited Atovulloyev to Tajikistan, RSF said “The Tajik government has for years been using all kinds of means to get its hands on this journalist. The arrest warrant that it apparently sent to Interpol is just its latest scheme.”

The Rakhmon regime’s targeting of critics does not stop with Atovulloyev. RSF’s statement continues, “Persecution of the government’s opponents in exile has been growing in the run-up to presidential elections scheduled for November. Umarali Quvvatov was briefly detained in Dubai last December. Former Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullajanov was arrested in Kiev in February, while Atovulloyev survived a murder attempt in Moscow in January 2012. However there was no reference that Interpol was used for the detentions.

Meanwhile, EUobserver in an article voiced concern that Kazakhstan was using Interpol, “to wage a political vendetta in the heart of the EU.” It said that Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was using the international law enforcement organisation to crackdown on his country’s dissidents that had fled the regime’s persecution.

EUobserver said that following clashes in December 2011 that had left 17 people dead, Nazarbayev had ramped up stifling opposition to his regime. He had declared Alga, an opposition party “extremist” and jailed its leader Vladimir Kozlov.

“In recent months, his administration has also used Interpol to pursue dissidents in European Union countries. To some extent, the Interpol requests are a form of PR: they try to give credibility to Kazakhstan’s claims that opposition activists are criminals,” writes Anna Koj in the EUobserver.

Koj writes that on June 12, Muratbek Ketebayev, an opposition member, was detained by the Polish police on an alert by Interpol. Ketebayev is charged by Kazakh government of spreading “social hatred.” On July 25, a Spanish court agreed to extradite Alexandr Pavlov, arrested on the basis of an Interpol ‘red notice’ after Kazakhstan accused him of fraud. Mukhtar Ablyazov, a leading opposition figure, was detained by French police near Cannes on July 31 on the basis of an Interpol notice filed by Ukraine. Tatiana Paraskevich, detained in May 2012 on the basis of an Interpol alert, is fighting extradition from the Czech Republic to Ukraine.  EUobserver said Nazarbayev uses Russia and Ukraine which are friendly countries to crackdown on its dissidents living overseas.

Tajikistan is 123rd and Kazakhstan 160th in RSF’s Press Freedom Index.

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