London: An Emirati general accused of torture and a senior Chinese official have won key posts at Interpol, sparking furious criticism from human rights campaigners.
The International Criminal Police Organisation said in a statement that Major-General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi was elected president of Interpol at its general assembly in Istanbul on Thursday. He received 68.9 per cent of the votes cast by the 195 member countries after three rounds of voting.
Two British men have filed complaints alleging that Raisi oversaw their physical abuse during their detention in the United Arab Emirates.
One of the men, academic Matthew Hedges, who was imprisoned in the UAE for seven months, condemned the result.
“The inevitable election of Raisi to Interpol presidency is a serious attack on the values it stands for,” he said in a tweet.
“His complicity in systematic torture and abuse is legitimised through Interpol and gives a green light to other authoritarian states that they can act without impunity.”
The UAE has said Hedges was not subjected to any physical or psychological mistreatment during his detention.
After a separate round of voting, it was announced that Hu Binchen had secured a three-year term on Interpol’s executive committee following a secret vote of members at the general assembly.
“Mr Binchen HU of China and Mr Praveen SINHA of India have been elected to the posts of Delegate for Asia (three-year term),” Interpol said in a tweet.
Hu Binchen is a deputy general in China’s Ministry of Public Security which oversees policing.
His candidacy was opposed by MPs of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC)who are part of a global alliance representing democratic countries and who say his election would give Beijing the green light to misuse the agency; in particular the Red Notices issued for arrests of wanted fugitives.
The international alliance said it was “deeply concerned” by the result.
“The government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has repeatedly abused the Interpol Red Notice to persecute dissidents in exile,” IPAC said in a statement.
“Hu’s election gives the PRC government a green light to continue using Interpol as a vehicle for its repressive policies globally and places thousands of Hong Konger, Uyghur, Tibetan, Taiwanese and Chinese dissidents living abroad at even graver risk.
“The PRC cannot be allowed to continue its long-arm policing abroad. Activists, dissidents and exiles living abroad must be protected from harassment and intimidation from the PRC authorities.”
It called on countries with extradition treaties with China and Hong Kong to immediately revoke them. Australia does not have an extradition treaty with Beijing after the Liberal Party blocked an attempt to establish one when Malcolm Turnbull was prime minister.
Peter Dahlin from the human rights NGO Safeguard Defenders – which trains lawyers in Asia, including in China – said a “fox was now placed in charge of watching the sheep”.
The Australian Federal Police, which represents Australia at Interpol, has been contacted for comment.
Twice in the last decade Australia has been caught in controversy over an Interpol Red Notice. The first time was in 2013, when the Coalition questioned Labor immigration safeguards over an Egyptian man, Sayed Ahmed Abdellatif, who was the subject of a Red Notice issued by Egypt. More recently a Red Notice issued by Bahrain for footballer Hakeem al-Araibi caused a diplomatic stoush with Thailand. Both Bahrain and Egypt are close allies of the UAE.
Britain also won a seat on the executive committee, which is an internal governance body rather than an operational organ of the international crime-fighting organisation.
Ahead of the closely watched votes on Thursday, Interpol’s Secretary-General sought to assuage concerns about Red Notices being misused, saying repeated attempts to arrest political opponents of regimes would not be accepted.
“The power of any Red Notice is in the trust of our membership and of decision-makers in it,” he said.
“Undermining that trust is undermining Interpol as a whole. Our Constitution is clear – no trade-off exists between ‘the widest possible mutual assistance’ by criminal police and ‘the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, or our neutrality.
“The General Secretariat will enforce the rules, as defined by the General Assembly. Requests that do not fall within those boundaries do not belong at Interpol – they will be declined.”
Get a note directly from our foreign correspondents on what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for the weekly What in the World newsletter here.