Man running to lead Interpol accused of aiding torture in UAE

Ahmed Naser Al-Raisi could face a probe as Britons detained in Dubai allege abuse

Borzou Daragahi
Istanbul
Monday 22 November 2021 17:51
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<p>British citizens Ali Issa Ahmad, left, and Matthew Hedges attend a news conference in Istanbul</p>

British citizens Ali Issa Ahmad, left, and Matthew Hedges attend a news conference in Istanbul

Matthew Hedges was in the United Arab Emirates researching his doctoral thesis. Ali Issa Ahmad was there to watch football.

Both British nationals say they were unjustly arrested, held incommunicado, and tortured with the complicity of the man who is expected to become the world’s top police official.

Maj Gen Ahmed Naser al-Raisi, inspector general of the UAE’s interior ministry, is considered the frontrunner to be elected the next president of Interpol during its annual gathering in Istanbul this week.

The veteran security official has been on a global charm offensive to drum up support from Interpol’s 194 member states for a four-year term, posting about his visits across the world on social media.

But Mr Raisi is also accused of overseeing a brutal and lawless police state.

A coalition of human rights groups have opposed his candidacy.

On Monday, Mr Hedges’ and Mr Ahmad’s attorneys filed a case with the Istanbul prosecutor, requesting an investigation into their allegations under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows any court to try suspects accused of human rights abuses and war crimes.

“People who are accused of serious crimes like Raisi should not be able to travel around the world with impunity, and they certainly shouldn’t be allowed to head one of the world’s most important police organisations,” Rodney Dixon, an attorney representing the two alleged torture victims, told reporters during a press conference in Istanbul on Monday.

“We know where he’s staying [in Istanbul], we know when he arrived, we know when he’s leaving,” he said. “There’s a golden opportunity to seek justice and arrest those directly involved in the horrific torture of my clients.”

The Independent approached the UAE’s interior ministry for comment.

The UAE has previously insisted that both Mr Hedges and Mr Ahmad were treated fairly and in accordance with its laws.

Headquartered in the French city of Lyon, Interpol is the organisation used by law enforcement agencies worldwide for cooperation on international criminal cases. The Independent also sought comment from Interpol, which has yet to respond to the allegations against Mr Raisi ahead of the impending vote.

The presidency of Interpol has long been plagued by controversy. The current president, South Korean Kim Jong Yang, took over after his predecessor, the Chinese official Meng Hongwei, was brought back to Beijing under mysterious circumstances and then disappeared.

A simple majority from the member states is required for victory. The UAE has been pushing hard for Mr Raisi’s candidacy, and raised eyebrows as the largest donor to a recent Interpol fund. He is competing against one other candidate, the Czech police official Sarka Havrankova, who is vying to become the second woman to lead the organisation since it was founded in 1923.

“Interpol should not be politicised, and wealth should never influence law enforcement matters,” Ms Havrankova said in a statement. “The organisation’s reputation and legitimacy have been undermined in the past and cannot afford to be fractured and rebuilt again.”

Neither Mr Hedges nor Mr Ahmad have alleged that Mr Raisi was directly involved in their abuse. But they noted that as inspector general, he was in charge of the prisons where they were held. Mr Hedges, who was detained in 2018, was a Durham University doctoral candidate researching a thesis on the UAE’s national security strategy when he was detained.

After his arrest, Mr Hedges alleged he was forced to take a cocktail of tranquilisers and Ritalin that made him disorientated and resulted in him signing a confession. 

“The combination was quite clearly designed to exploit and manipulate,” he said during the Istanbul press conference. “I was threatened with physical abuse and torture. They threatened to rendition me to an overseas military base.”

Mr Hedges was held for seven months, tried and sentenced to life in prison on spying charges before he was pardoned and allowed to return home in November 2018.

Mr Ahmad visited Dubai to attend the Asia Cup games in 2019 when he was arrested and allegedly beaten and tortured during nearly a month in prison. The Sudanese-born football fan was accused of being a spy for Qatar, a rival of the UAE, because he was seen cheering the Qatari team.

At the time, UAE and Qatar were rivals in a long-running diplomatic spat.

“They knocked out my teeth,” Mr Ahmad said during the press conference. “They took me to a hospital to treat me and then took me to interrogation. They spent day after day interrogating me. I was subject to electric shock.”

The glittery oil-rich Arabian peninsula confederation of seven monarchies led by Abu Dhabi is a key security partner of the west.

But in recent months it has also sought to patch up relations with rivals, including Turkey. The UAE’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, is scheduled to visit Turkey this week to patch up strained relations with Ankara, potentially purchase Turkish-made combat drones, and possibly campaign for Mr Raisi to head Interpol.

Like the UAE, Turkey has also been accused of abusing Interpol’s red notice system of warrants to pursue political enemies rather than criminals.

The attorneys for Mr Hedges and Mr Ahmad conceded that the shifting geopolitical dynamics might complicate pursuing the case against Mr Raisi in Turkey. That said, they have already met with a special prosecutor in Istanbul, and were scheduled to file a formal complaint on Monday.

”This complaint we initiated should be considered a main component in the fight against impunity in human rights and abuse of power in the United Arab Emirates,” said attorney Tugce Duygu Koksal.

“The Turkish authorities can act in this situation and take all requirements to speed up the investigation.”

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